Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Things I ‘Heart’ about Dubai

Things that I have seen or experienced recently which made me smile:

A peacock sitting behind my car at a beach club
Long legged /long-beaked birds on the grass on a busy roundabout Buying frozen butternut squash in my local supermarket
Knowing what the weather will be like, every day – and it’s always great
Having dinner outside, by the creek, at night
Looking back at the city at dusk from the beach – beautiful. And very twinkly!
Never having to worry about leaving anything, however insignificant, in my car, for fear of it being broken into
Walking home from a night out without ever looking over your shoulder
The complete absence of any scallies
Hearing the ‘call to prayer’ coming from the mosque when sitting on the beach
Watching a sea plane land yards away from my sun lounger
I have all my clothes and super-king bed sheets ironed for pennies
I can fill the car up for less than six quid
A massage at the local spa is 7 quid

I’m sure there will be more as time goes on, and I’ll keep you updated. Coming soon: things I miss about dear old Blighty.

The price of…celery!

Well I never thought I’d be writing about such banal issues as the price of my weekly shop, but this, dear readers, does give you a fascinating insight in my life. Just to warn you: by fascinating, I may mean a little bit dull.

Fruits and vegetables from my local Spinneys (Waitrose) can be a bit hit and miss. Some of it is amazing stuff, but as a lot of it has to be shipped in from far-flung countries, it can be a bit pricey. One trick to avoid this is to avoid the stuff from overseas and buy locally grown produce, where we can. This means no longer paying 2 quid for an aubergine, but 50p. Hurrah!

As yet, I haven’t managed to find any locally grown celery. I actually detest the stuff raw but it’s a great basis for soups and stews. And (thank you Dee Swindlehurst for the recipe) I do LOVE my chick pea stews. So until then I will stump up the required 3 quid for a bunch. As opposed to the 40p I used to pay in Gangster Asda. Sigh.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Need a Lift?

For those of you who chuckled at my lift exploits a few weeks ago, here’s the sign that they put up whilst it was being fixed. Inconvenience was indeed regretted – mainly by my calves!

This is What Fridays are For...

This is my favourite beach in Dubai and where I spend most of my Fridays. Kinda makes up for the long working hours...!

The View from my Window

The lovely Christophe asked me what I could see from my office window the other day. Here it is, the world's tallest building, folks. We regularly have tourists arriving my taxi to take photos - this is about as close to the beast as you can get. It is HUGE.

I am Officially a Dubai Resident!

It took three months, a pile of paperwork, blood tests, chest x-rays, umpteen passport photos but I finally have my visa. This might not seem like a big deal, but as you cannot function in Dubai without a visa, this small piece of paper is crucial.

Without one you can only stay in the country for 30 days and have to keep leaving and re-entering, an arduous task and not one you really need after a 70 hour week on your precious weekend.

You need a visa for pretty much anything: renting a house, driving a car, getting a mobile phone, alcohol licence, the list goes on. The world is now my oyster.

Ramadan – What’s It Really Like?

So we’re now in the last week of Ramadan, and I have to say, it hasn’t felt massively different. By law, working hours are reduced to 6 hours a day – needless to say I haven’t felt much benefit of this. I have left the office at around 5.30 on a couple of occasions, which felt like the biggest treat ever. It has also meant that if I rush, I can get down to the beach before the sun starts to set at 6.15.

As for the ban on eating and drinking in public, well the benefit of having my own office is that if I’m discrete, I can have the odd coffee and sip of water without offending anyone. Not that my fasting colleagues seem to mind. I always check with them and they don’t mind us eating and drinking.

The one main difference is when you’re in the car, on long journeys. My weekly trips to Abu Dhabi are tiring enough, without snacks, water, and coffee and a biscuit at the other end, they are positively hellish. Still, the ethos behind Ramadan is amazing, and I have enjoyed being exposed more to the culture of the country which I’m beginning to call home.

Flashing Lights

I may have mentioned quite how ridiculous, crazy and down right dangerous the driving is here. Here’s a case in point. As I’ve been pootling around, with my British manners, I often flash my lights at people to let them out at junctions etc. I couldn’t work out why so few people responded to this and actually moved. Then I realised, the only way that people use the lights on their cars here is to flash you from behind, in the fast lane (when you’re already doing 140) to get you to move over!

I regularly drive to and from Abu Dhabi, and in any one journey this will literally happen to me….oh 30 times. I am not exaggerating. I only use the fast lane for overtaking (hello guys this is what it is supposed to be used for!) and the amount of times when I’m checking my rear view mirror that my heart sink, as I see a car zooming up to my rear, lights flashing the entire time. I think these people drive with their lights permanently flashing. It’s rude, unnecessary and dangerous.

They’re also a bit overkeen on the horn here. In Manchester, the ‘parp’ from my little Renault clio was a bit too Minnie Mouse-ish to be taken seriously, so I used it sparingly. Here, there is always someone beeping at you. Either you’re going too slow, or sometimes they beep just if they are driving past you on the highway, to warn you not to come out of your lane. This frustrated me massively to begin with(hello, I have mirrors, I do use them, I learned to drive in the UK, we have white lines on the road there!) but now I almost zone out the endless beeping.

So all in all, driving in Dubai: don’t do it!

The Little Things

Yesterday was an exciting day. A Spinneys (Waitrose) has opened within my apartment complex. This is exciting mainly because I no longer need to get into the car to fetch groceries, and I can (shock, horror) actually walk somewhere, in Dubai!
The apartment development is still a bit of work in progress, but in the next month or so we will have a Caribou Coffee, a Starbucks (which will deliver to the pool!), a Krispy Kreme (goodbye waistline!), a bank, two spas and a refelxology centre.

Granted, I did have to check for traffic driving into the entrance of the development as it gets pretty busy, but I still managed to leave the pool, stretch my legs, fetch food, and return home, all without putting the key in the ignition. It’s the small things people!

Getting Away From it All

After a sad week, I decided the best foot forward was to check into one of Dubai’s most beautiful 5 star hotels for the night.

The one and Only Royal Mirage is a true luxury hotel.. I’ve stayed in some divine hotels in my time, but this takes the biscuit. Whereas the glorious Burj is the Anna Nicole Smith of hotels (flashy, fun, outrageous in its opulence), the One and Only is the Jackie Onassis. Restrained, elegant, and quietly confident, the place is a visual spectacle, with gardens, fountains and of course, a white sandy beach. The staff couldn’t do enough for us, iced water every ten minutes on the sunlounger, and fresh fruit mid-afternoon. Just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Inspirational Woman

I had some sad news this week. My gorgeous Great-Grandma passed away. She had lived to a ripe old age - 100 years and nine months old. She had lived through two World Wars and the g
German Occupation of Jersey. Up until two weeks ago she was still living in her home alone and looking after herself.

My first memories of Granny are visiting her at the Station House and long weekends spent playing in the gardens with my friends. As a child this was a dream – she lived in a real Station House, where trains had once stopped! And the gardens seemed to stretch on forever.

I had sleepovers with her which I adored. She said it was the only time that she used to sleep through the night. We spent so many enjoyable weekends together. She taught me how to cook, and how to sew.

One weekend she made clothes for my favourite teddy bear (imaginatively named ‘Pink Ted’). She made him trousers, a waistcoat, a cape, and even a peaked cap! He was the best-dressed bear on the island.

At nights we sat together and chatted in front of the open fire. They were very happy days.

As I grew older and left the island for university, Granny became my pen pal. We used to write every week, and whenever I traveled anywhere in the world, I would always find a good postcard to send to her. I loved seeing one of her letters arriving on the doormat, full of news, and her sense of humour jumped off the page.

Over the years a succession of my friends have been to visit Granny on my many trips home. Without exception they have all been enchanted by her spirit, tenacity and kindness. Some of them even became pen pals with her.

The last time I saw her was January this year. Despite being almost a hundred at this stage, she had been putting up a full length mirror in her wardrobe the woman had diy skills to shame mine! She was full of life and laughter and was very tickled by me trying on her various hats (her wardrobe was still jam packed with outfits.)

I've been lucky enough to have some very strong and inspiratinal female role models in my life, and she ranks as the best. I shall miss you Granny.

She's Back!

For all true fans, this post was never going to be a surprise. Yes, Britters is back! Her triumphant return at the MTV awards a few weeks back was a truly happy day for me. The only person I know who may be a little more excited than me is a certain Ms Alexander, who has shared my love of Britters for many years. Her most recent album is my personal favourite and is my constant companion when in the gym.
Whilst I might say that media reports of her looking trim and svelte were a little overexaggerated (the girl has the thighs of a Russian shotputter!) it was a delight to see her dressed, wearing underwear, and with hair. I think she may have new teeth too...? Anyway, welcome back Britney. We missed you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hasn’t that been banned……everywhere?

I can remember when the idea of introducing smoking bans was first touted, around the world. There was much debate from the smoking brigade about the nanny state and it was a bone of contention for a long time in the run-up to it being introduced.

I went to New York just after the ban had been brought in, on one of my annual ‘rack-up-the-credit-card-and-spend-the-rest-of-the-year-paying-it-off’ jaunts – ah heady happy days! After a delicious dinner in Pastis, we headed off to CafĂ© Waah (Jimmy Hendrix’s old club, fact fans) and it took about half an hour for us to realise what the difference in atmosphere was. Then it hit us – or didn’t depending on which way you look at it.
No-one was smoking.
The air was clear, and best of all – when we got home – we didn’t stink of cigs. No vile smell on our clothes, and my personal pet-hate, none in my hair – I always hated the way it seemed to re-appear when I got into the shower.

So, after this pleasant smoke-free existence – imagine my horror when I arrived in Dubai to discover that not only does 99% of the population appear to smoke (well, cigarettes are only 90p a pack) but you can smoke in most public places. This means when you’re trying to eat, or even just having a coffee, it is very likely someone will be chuffing away next to you. I had forgotten how much I truly hated this until now.

I find it interesting that a city which is trying so hard to be advanced in so many ways, which has very stringent laws on drug use – even hundreds of medications are banned from being brought into the country (any cold remedy with codeine in it, for example) and yet they happily let people smoke in public. Insane

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The earth moved for me!

Yes, it is true. You may have heard the news – I am now officially an earthquake survivor!

There I was, minding own business and beavering away at my desk, when my laptop started to move. “This is it”, I thought. “I’m finally having a ‘funny turn’ and losing my marbles. Why did it have to happen at work!” Then my office door started shaking, then the floor started shaking, then lights started swaying manically….and then of course the squealing of dramatic PR folk started. My first thought was: earthquake, although there was some worry about whether or not the world’s tallest building was collapsing next to our office.

We were immediately evacuated from the building - down the stairs (not what my calves needed after tramping down 13 flights earlier in the week when the lifts broke, I can tell you) and emerged out into the 40 degree heat. Thankfully I had managed to grab my Miu Miu handbag and Dior shades. If I’m going down, I’m going down in style! This being Dubai, the evacuation point was, er, right next to the building. So, if the building was to fall down we’d be right in the firing line.

There then followed complete pandemonium as thousands of office workers spilled onto the streets and cars tried to leave the complex. We huddled in bits of shade – did I mention it was 40 degrees, oh and about 50% humidity, and word filtered through that there had been an earthquake in Iran, which we’d felt the tail end of.

As someone who did live through the Manchester quakes of 2002 and 2007, I now feel like an earthquake veteran! Joking apart, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, and thank god we weren’t in Iran, where 6 people died. It does raise an interesting point about Burj Dubai. The thing is like, almost a mile high...how will they evacuate people from that beast if another tremor hits us?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It’s nearly time for……

CAMEL RACING!!!!!!! Yes, this is the news I know you’ve been waiting for. As of October 1st, the most anticipated date in the Dubai diary (well, my diary, anyway) arrives! Yes, the chance to get up close and personal with the amazing ‘Ships of the Desert’ as they compete in the weekly camel racing events. I cannot wait – as I’m sure you can tell.

The camel race track is about ten minutes from home – across the road from the aptly placed Camel Hospital. Yes, I have considered applying for a job there. My options may be restricted by the fact that I am mainly interested in camel stroking, rather than blood, guts and gore, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained!

So anyway, apparently the camels that race are mainly laydeee camels – they are faster and better suited to running. IN YOUR FACE boy camels! They do not have jockeys (although in the past I think small children rode the camels – less said about that the better) instead they apparently have ‘robots’ on their backs. Before you start thinking Terminator style, the photos that I have seen of said robots resemble s a small box rather than a metal human being.

As you may be able to tell, I think camels are magnificent beasts. Here are some fascinating camel facts:

Camels have a third thin eyelid that theycan see through. Hair inside the ears helps to keep sand out.
The hump is filled with fat. The hump will shrink if the camel does not eat.
They are called Ships-of-the-Desert because they can carry heavy loads. Camels can carry as much as 1,000 pounds
"Riding camels" can travel up to 100 miles in one day.
A camel can drink 27 gallons of water in 10 minutes
Camels are desert animals. Very few animals live in the desert; most of them are small, like beetles and lizards. Small animals can easily find shade and enough water and food, but for big animals it is much harder.
People drink camel milk and use camel dung to make their fires when there is no firewood.
In return desert people, (called nomads) give camels water by digging wells and extra food that they buy from farmers.
The camel is one of the oldest domesticated animals, people have been using them for more than 10,000 years.
The camel can go for some days with out drinking water. (Not more than 10 days). The camel conserves water in his body cell and his stomach. Conserving means he doesn't waste water through sweating, breathing or urinating.
He is able to live on very poor vegetation during the dry summer months.
The fat stored in the hump will provide him with enough energy to reach good grazing.
He has very long legs to keep his big body high off the hot ground.
Even when he sits down his belly will not touch the ground, he has a pillow like callus under his chest to balance him and make it comfortable for him to rest on the sand, even when it is hot.
Camels knees have very hard skin to protect them when they rest
The young are born in the rainy season when there is plenty of grazing.
A female camel is pregnant for about 13 months and she will only have offspring every 2-3 years.
The camel’s eyes are protected by long eyelashes. In a desert storm he can still keep walking and find his way.
The ears are small and very hairy, to keep flying sand from entering.
The nostrils can close completely or leave just a tiny opening for breathing.
His coat is thick to insulate against both heat and cold. The desert is very hot during the day (32C.-45C.), but gets very cold at night. (Almost freezing!).
There are two species of camels: The Dromedary, characterized by one hump and long legs, lives in the deserts of Arabia and Africa. The Bactrian camel has 2 humps and is shorter with a very thick coat. The Bactrian lives in northern Asia, China and Afghanistan, in areas called "steppe" that are mostly grasslands.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Melting Pot

One of the things that I love abut Dubai is the diversity of people that you meet. Last night after work I nipped down to the pool for a swim. There’s getting to be quite a nice community feel to the place, families are moving in (a work colleague has just moved in with his wife, two children, and two cats!) and as I left the gym the other night another colleague was on his balcony with a beer.

So, last night, at the pool, there was a German guy sat in the sun with is laptop, a Taiwanese family teaching their young son how to swim (cute!) and a French family playing in the kids’ area.

At work my colleagues are from (in no particular order): Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, India, Toronto, Germany, Singapore and Saudi. That’s just the PR team – the advertising guys are from even more far-flung places. Oh, and there’s a Manc and a couple of Brummies too.

It’s very multi-cultural and completely fascinating chatting to people about where they’re from, their customs, beliefs, (religious and just generally!). There were exclamations of horror that I had never heard of ‘Hardees’ – a fast-food place here that everyone loves. Likewise I have enjoyed explaining the word ‘munter’ (this defies translation and is still a mystery to my team.) It’s all about the sharing of information, people!

There’s no place like home

I don’t think I’ve explained that much about where I live, so here’s some info kids.

I live in an area which apparently is the most expensive in the world – it’s ah op, skip and a jump from Burj Dubai – the world’s tallest building. Thankfully the apartment is a 5 minute drive to the office. I remain convinced that during the summer months I’ll be able to walk to work – a concept that is greeted by howls of laughter from friends and colleagues. You see, there is no sewerage system here – so in addition to the crazy car drivers who may mow you down without so much as a backwards glance, on the odd occasion that it rains, apparently the roads flood with water as there is nowhere for it to drain through to.

Anyway, within walking distance of the apartment (not that you want to walk anywhere at the moment, the humidity is obscene) we have two gorgeous hotels. One, the Al Manzil, has a diving courtyard, which due to some amazing architectural trickery, remains really cool, ever at this time of year.

The Palace is set on an island and really does feel very majestic as you go into it. Both have souks within them – think an Arabian mini-shopping centre. These are really handy as they each have a Spinneys (Waitrose), chemists, hairdressers (!) various boutiques, and a huge range of gorgeous restaurants and bars.

There’s also a great little spa for waxes, mani pedis (for 10 quid) and massages. Starbucks, cafes, florists, camel souvenirs, it’s all going on.

Our apartment is in a development called South Ridge. Six enormous towers (39 floors) with two pools – which are divine, a fab gym, which is never busy, a golf simulator (!), squash and badminton courts, and soon to open guest suites where visitors can rest their weary heads. The lobby of our tower alone looks like a 7 star hotel, lush sofas, works of art, and 24 hour concierges. Who are possibly the sweetest people I have ever met. Nothing is too much trouble for them.

All of this comes at a price, of course. 20, 000 of your English pounds, if you please, for one year. And you have to pay up front, in two cheques. There was sasharp intake of breath when the first one was cashed, I can tell you.

The world's largest mall is set to open at the end of October - this too, is a 5 minute walk from the apartment. Whilst concerned about the effect that the inevitable traffic to the mall will create, I am keen for seeing the world's largest aquarium, and indoor ice-skating rink (are you listening, Haidari?!).

Have I made you want to visit yet?!


When I lived in Manchester I used to love nipping up to the penthouse in my apartment building – the view was amazing. As that building was only 5 stories high, you can imagine the view from the 13th floor of my apartment block here in Dubai!

It does feel very high up, and for someone with vertigo, this makes any sort of balcony activity a bit tricky. One thing which I hadn’t considered until yesterday was: what do you do if the lifts break? As we have 3, I didn’t think that this would ever be a real issue. So imagine my horror when this morning I was greeted by 3 lifts, all working, but with water pouring into them and out of them each time the doors opened (think the scene in The Shining when the lift door opens into the hotel lobby, only with water, not blood.)

I was then faced with a choice – brave the wet lifts, or go down 12 flights of stairs. Thankfully I had flip flops in my handbag so the stairs didn’t have to be braved in red patent heels. Point to note: climbing down 13 flights of stairs in flip-flops will render you incapable of moving for the next day. You will have to roll out of bed on your hands and knees and stand up like an old woman. And you will only be able to walk by keeping your legs completely straight. Not a good look.

Thankfully, they have now fixed the lifts.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Not only hot, but wet

There was a day last week, when I emerged from a client’s office in Abu Dhabi to a pleasant surprise – it wasn’t that hot! By ‘wasn’t that hot’ I mean it was about 38 degrees, and a very dry heat. This put me in ever such a good mood. Images of evenings spent sat outside, days at the beach (without drowning in sweat) and general outdoor fun felt just within reach. In typical ‘new to Dubai’ mode, friends and I started saying knowledgably: “We’re through the worst now, don’t know what all the fuss was about, etc etc.”

How wrong we were.

Not only has the temperature since rocketed back up to the mid-40’s, the humidity has now gone sky high. I mean 60% in the middle of the day. Not only does it make for a very sticky existence if you have to leave the house /office (I was drenched after 5 mins hanging the washing out on the balcony) but it also has a very detrimental effect on my barnet.
Remember the episode of Friends where they go to Barbados and Monica’s hair becomes so enormous it is visible from the moon….? Yes, that’s me. Hmmm mmmm I look good!

Reading Material

Before I came to Dubai I worried abut being able to find my home comforts here. I’m not particularly attached to English brands but I cannot and will not live without Twiglets! I’m happy to report that most food stuff can be found here (we shall see about iced mince pies closer to the festive season!).

One thing which you can buy, but at a very inflated price, is books. A simple paperback can be anywhere from 10-15 quid, a little excessive in my opinion, especially when I read at least a book a week. I’ve started swapping books with friends but was really struggling to feed my voracious book habit.

That was until I was tipped off about an amazing little second hand bookshop in Satwa. Satwa is an amazing part of Dubai – nicknamed ‘old Dubai’ or the ‘real Dubai’ it’s a bit like going back in time. Lots of older buildings which are in real contrast to the skyscrapers in the background, and enormous J-Lo sized villas behind it. The bookshop had everything from health/self-help to travel and trash – heaven! I snaffled up a recent Tony Parsons, and a variety of New York themed novels. All for a couple of quid each. And the really fab part is that if you take the books back once you have finished, they’ll swap them for more or give you half of your money back! Providing they’re not too dog-eared, of course.

A bargain in Dubai, I like it!

Sand, glorious sand

Spent a very pleasant Friday on the beach this week. It might sound ridiculous, but there aren’t that many stretches of public beach in Dubai – most of the hotels have gobbled them up, or else they’re building onto them with various construction projects. The public beaches can be a bit of a bun fight, lots and lots of people (mainly men) and not really the place I feel comfortable prancing about in a bikini.

One great solution is to go to a beach club. These are attached to hotels; you pay a standard price for the day – anything from 20 to 30 quid. This allows you onto the beach for the whole day, and sometime includes a generous lunch. So on Friday we tripped off to this hotel. Divine to be on the beach – the water couldn’t have been any more azure and perfect, albeit a bit like a warm bath. The pool however, like our pool at home, is chilled. Yes, chilled! The boy and I adopted our usual positions – he with highbrow reading material: The Economist, Arabian Business, me with Ahlan! (our version of Hello) Grazia and OK!. Well, I may be on the other side of the world, but I still need to know how Britney is getting on!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Wrong Side of the Car!

It's the small things that make me laugh here and remind me of the differences in life in the Middle East. I've been here for 3 months, driving for two of those. Every now and then on one of my many many trips to Abu Dhabi do I amaze myself that I'm driving, on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car!
And every now and again I go to get into the passenger side of the car. Which my colleagues think is hilarious. I keep telling them - for me, it's the RIGHT side!

Ramadan Kareem!

Ramadan began yesterday – a month long religious event which is celebrated across the Middle East. Some official information on it is below. How this translates into day to day ife is fascinating, we cannot eat or drink in public, this means even in the car, no water, no snacks, nothing.

Most of my office is fasting during the day, so our office hours are reduced from 10 -4. Interesting how the non-fasting non-Muslims all skedaddle out of the door at 4 m – I am still sat here as usual at 7 pm each night.

Muslims break their fast at about 635 pm each evening – this is called Iftar and most hotels hold amazing Iftar buffets each night.

On the first night of Ramadan I went to a colleagues house for the most delicious Egyptian food ever, and I have obviously offered myself as available to attend any other such events. It’s important to experience the true culture of my host country, after all. Yum!

  • Ramadan is a time when Muslims refrain from eating during daylight hours as an act of sacrifice that reminds them of the challenges of the poor.

  • It is a time for generosity of spirit and a period when family ties are renewed and enhanced.Non-Muslims are not required to follow Islamic practices during Ramadan, but there are customs and regulations that should be observed by everybody.

  • Non-Muslims are expected to respect the Muslim Ramadan practices by not eating, drinking, or smoking in front of Muslims or in any public place in the UAE during daylight hours. Transgressions can be fined.I

  • ndependent eating establishments will not open until sunset; many stay open into the early morning hours.

  • Most hotels will serve food in a location not in the public view during the daylight hours.Some hotels will not serve liquor during the month of Ramadan, but most in Dubai will serve alcohol after 7.00pm. Live music is not permitted and you will find that many bars and restaurants are more low-key than usual. Obviously brunches stop for the month.

  • As an alternative, you may wish to go to an Iftar buffet. These are laid on by hotels, although strictly speaking it is the meal for breaking fast in the evening.

  • Driving during the late afternoon and early evening is best avoided if at all possible. Traffic is very heavy as people try rush to get home for Iftar and can be even more erratic than usual.

  • Women especially, should consider their attire during Ramadan. Skimpy clothing should not be worn at any time, but extra consideration should be given to our Muslim hosts during Ramadan.

  • Business hours will be adjusted in consideration of Ramadan and the work hours are typically reduced. If you need to conduct any business during Ramadan, it would be wise to call in advance to verify the adjusted business hours. In the work environment, you may find it more difficult to schedule meetings.