Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What a Year!

I’m reading Chris Evans’s autobiography at the moment, and he prefaces each chapter with a Top Ten. And given that we’re nearing the end of a decade, it’s not a bad way to summarise the year.

Here’s mine for 2009...and I have to say - it wasn't easy just picking 10 highlights.  It's been an interesting year.  Started with a bit of a bump and then turned into nothing short of awesome.  I'm already very excited for 2010...

10. Bingo. No, really. For one short month we discovered, and loved, bingo. The fact that this was combined with half price wine and food was just a happy coincidence. Bingo, we miss you.
9. Ramadan. I actually got to work slightly shorter hours this year which meant much more time for socializing, and the gym. And Ramadan does of course, mean Iftars…
8. Chi. It has to be the world’s cheesiest club, but I’ve had more hilarious nights out here than I care to admit. Having the lovely Harris just a hop skip and a jump away in Oman has meant many many lost weekends in there. Thank god my mum isn’t on Facebook to see the photographic evidence.
7. Sri Lanka. One of the most gorgeous places in the world. Private villa on the beach, with chef, yoga teacher and houseboys attending to my every whim. I don’t need complete luxury like this, honestly, I’m actually very easily pleased…..
6. Saturday Sundowners. It’s a tradition as old as time itself…well if you live in a sundrenched country I guess. Before gearing up for a hard week at work there’s nothing like sinking your toes into the sand/propping up a bar watching the sun set, in a sun dress and shades.
5. Beach Club. A Friday ritual. We spend a great deal of time comparing notes on which is our favourite, but really, there’s not much in it. Luxurious sun-loungers, delicious food, wine on tap, oh, and sun, sea and blue skies. Throw in great company and a stack of celebrity magazines, and you have the perfect recipe for lazy day off. However hard the week has been, and they can be tough, it’s hard to say stressed when floating in the sea looking back at the insane and beautiful skyline of Dubai.
4. Beirut. If the Sun had written a headline to describe that trip, it would have to be: Busty Blonde Brit Babes Cause Bedlam. A hilarious riotous adventure from start to finish. If I’m having a bad day a sneaky peep at the photos cheers me right up. And normally results in loud guffawing.
3. Family – in Dubai and the UK…The Dubai Family. It’s been said before, but really, I’m blessed to have found some really wonderful friends here…you all know who you are….The UK Family. Laydeeeees! And some gents….You’re out of sight but never out of mind. Your emails, texts and phone calls make me laugh, cry and miss you even more. You’re always welcome here for visits…
2. Safari. The most amazing trip, ever. Animals, scenery, people, company. Bliss.
1. Christmas. Spending time with the people that you love, in a place that you love…what’s not to love?!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas in the Sand

"You're not going home for Christmas?" is a question I've been asked each year that I've chosen to stay here in Dubai. It's usually followed by an aghast face and horrified sharp intake of breath when I answer no.

Everyone from work colleagues to friends to taxi drivers - so all races and religions, assumes that heading home is as natural as trawling round M & S on Christmas Eve and fighting for a turkey. Err, no thanks!

I've never been one for a massively conventional Christmas. I left home when I was 18 and moved 400 miles away. And although I did make some trips home I frequently preferred to fly the family to me, or spend it with my urban family and friends, wherever that was at the time. And bless my family, they never pressured me to go back. If I did, we never had turkey. Lobster, crayfish, scallops, duck, beef wellington, but never turkey.

Since I moved to Dubai, the urge to return to the UK has been even more depleted. YOU KNOW I love the UK for all sorts of reasons, but Christmas isn't one of them. Yes, Manchester has the German markets, crisp days and snow - but none of that appeals to me when you compare it to sunshine and beach. And let's face it: crisp days are few and far between (more rain than anything else) and snow is a death-trap/plain annoying after the first day. I just don't do the cold!

So what was Christmas like this year? Well for starters I was surrounded by my gorgeous family (grandma included!) and wonderful friends. So far, so very good.

Christmas Eve started off in the nail bar (I'm so Dubai) with a good gossip with the girls who I've been seeing for almost two years. They were so excited by the chocolates I'd bought them I really wish I'd taken more. Bless them. I also dropped off chocs for my complex's security guards and concierge so it was a thoroughly festive start to the day.

Then it was off to Atlantis. I think I've blogged about Atlantis before, and it is just as loud and brash as everything that I'm sure you've already read about it, so I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say we had a great time dodging the nine million Russian tourists, oohing and ahhing at the aquarium, and nosying round the Lost Chambers. Treated Grandma to a v swish glittery Atlantis shopping bag which I'm sure she is now rocking around a branch of Jersey's co-op even as we speak.

Then onto Barasti - I've mentioned this beach bar before. It's the place that journos go to interview 'boozed up Brits' when writing their 'Death of Dubai' pieces. Can be hideous in the evenings but lovely in the daytime. We nabbed a table on the terrace overlooking the beach and marina and enjoyed some scran. We mused over what we'd be doing if we were in UK and agreed we'd rather be in the sunshine.

The fun didn't stop there....we then headed to 360 (a circular bar in the middle of the sea)to continue a tradition of Christmas Eve sundowners. As we watched Santa Claus water ski past (only in Dubai) as the sun set behind the Burj, it really did feel very special being in Dubai.

And if you're wondering if it really does feel Christmassy here - yes it does! There were decorations and trees everywhere, and everyone we met wished us a Merry Christmas.

Christmas Day was the gorgeous Ritz. There was 15 of us in the end, the Harvardes, the Morans, and lots of other lovely friends who fancied a spot of festive luxury. Can you see how the blue the sky is in the photo! The food, the staff, the atmosphere, the sunshine, the beach, and the company all combined to make one wonderful day.

So, THAT'S why I chose to stay in Dubai for Christmas. The only thing missing was my lovely friends from home. Next year people, you are most welcome to join me in the sunshine!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Horsing Around...

What to buy the man who has everything for Christmas? And by man, I mean my dear dad. Dads so often get the thin end of the wedge at Christmas, don’t they? The inevitable socks, aftershave, and if they’re lucky, some Clinique for Men. We like to do presents well in my family (in a shock move, you can ask for what you want, and get it) plus I wanted to spoil dad as I didn’t get to see him on his birthday at the beginning of December. And, well, it is Christmas, and I only see him once a year!

So what to choose? My dad loves horses, and by happy coincidence, so do the Arabs. With a bit of investigative research I discovered that you can go ‘behind-the-scenes’ at the Dubai Polo Club, by arranging a tour of the stables. The polo club is another one of those places that I just haven’t managed to get round to visiting, so it ticked all the boxes. Boom!

And what a gorgeous place and experience it was. It’s about a twenty minute drive from my apartment, so we set off at stupid o’clock in a state of high excitement. (Note: at this stage by dad still had no idea where he was going as we had managed to keep it a surprise.) And surprised he was when we arrived!

The drill is basically this: arrive at beautiful club house, be greeted by wonderfully charming staff, order your breakfast, to be scoffed on the terrace later, and then get taken round the stables by one of the riding instructors. I apologise for forgetting her name. I’m terrible with names! Let’s call her Polo Lady…..

It’s very laid back and we spent a pleasant hour chatting away to Polo Lady about the game, the ponies, how they go abut living their lives…..I’ll also admit to sneaking in a few questions about Argentinian polo players…hmmm.

Of course we got to stroke a few noses along the way which I was delighted about. The polo ponies are, as you would imagine, stunning creatures, as were the other horses stabled there. They live a pretty good life – hot showers and shampoos, daily exercise and grooming. One was on a homeopathic diet (only in Dubai, surely?!) and many owners bring their own fragrance shower gels for them Some polo pony facts:

They don’t have manes. Well, they do, but they’re closely cropped so as not to get tangled in the polo sticks (must check the proper lingo.)
Only lady ponies are used in the game. They’re much more focused than the men. Men tend to get easily distracted, and if they get a whiff of a lady pony, they’re off. Ah, how nature is consistent across the animal and human kingdom!
They are very smart, and learn that when they hear the whoosh of the polo stick and the sound of it hitting the ball, they have to yank their head up pretty darned quick to avoid getting hit on the head. That said, they can and do sustain a lot of injuries, bless them.

They cost up to $20, 000 each.
There are 4 ponies in a team and as they are changed frequently throughout the game, you need to have up to 8 ponies if you're going to play.It costs $1, 000 to stable a pony each month

You do the math! It ain't cheap!

After a happy hour imagining life with a hot Argentinian, we adjourned to the terrace for breakfast. the sun was shining, the air was fresh, the breakfast was delicious. Dad's verdict on the morning: "The best Christmas present ever!" Job done.

How Old is Old Dubai??

It’s easy to come to Dubai and get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the place – I know I do on a daily basis. If you’ve only lived here a few years like I have it’s easy to forget that as few years ago, most of the skyscrapers weren’t here. It really was just a pile of sand. So when visitors come it’s nice to take them down to the older parts of Dubai, near the creek. (And when I say old, I mean 30 years old. Hardly ancient by our standards....!)

Bastakiya is a lovely area and one of the few places where you can see old-style houses and imagine Dubai ‘as it used to be.’ They were going to pull all the buildings down until a certain Prince Charles paid Dubai a visit and commented on how marvelous the area looked. Cue huge renovation project – and the end result, if a little too polished, is really lovely. It’s a small area and an intriguing maze of shady passages. I recommend booking a tour through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding – without a guide to take you round you really haven’t got much of a clue what you’re looking at.

Our guide was a very lovely young lady called Khulood Al Atiyat. She took us all around the area, and then we stopped for coffee and had a chance to chat and ask her questions. Fascinating. I had to stop my mum from asking her what brand of mascara she used (she was stunning) but otherwise she took our nosiness with very good grace and chatted to us for a while about her friends, family, and life in general in Dubai. A very interesting morning.

After that we had a good rummage round the textile souk. As ever with places like this you do get a bit harangued by shop-keepers, but they’re generally pretty nice and not too intimidating. I have a favourite shop (at the very end on the right-hand side, if you’re interested!), where the staff are pleasant and they don’t mither you too much. Oh, and it’s huge. My dad is now rocking out a variety of Arab scarves and I have a couple of new pashminas to fight off the air con.

Next stop: an abra ride across the creek. I'm ashamed to say I'd never done this before! Abras for those not in the know, are small wooden boats which take people across the creek for the princely sum of one dirham (about 20p...finally, a bargain in Dubai!). If you're big on health and safety, look away now. They don't really moor the boats up so you have to fling yourself onto them from (my heart was in my mouth when my 72 year old grandmother launched herself onto it!). They're open sided and I didn't spot a lifejacket/buoy......and the creek gets a bit choppy at points.
Anyway, this is all forgotten once you set off. The breeze, the sunshine and the old boats that you sail past all combine to transport you to a different time and completely different way of life, all whilst still in Dubai, of course. LOVED it.

A quick sniff around the spice souk (dried lemons a big hit with the family) and it was time to catch an abra back across the creek and head home. As far as first days go, I think it was a good start to the family's holiday. I have to admit to struggling at more than one point. That's what yo get when you go out drinking the very night that you have to meet your parents at the airport at 3 am....and only get 3 hour's sleep before heading out. Whoops!


Do you have hordes of visitors invading your house/eating all your food, and demanding to be entertained each day and night? Well worry no more, for I am a Dubai tour guide extraordinaire!

Yes, after a week of entertaining my family, I think I have a few interesting jaunts which I could recommend….I’ll post them as and when I’m awake enough to review them – took the family to the airport this morning at stupid o’clock and am still in a bit of a haze. Could also be down to the fact that I’ve averaged at least 5,000 calories each day for the last two weeks and my body is battling to digest them. Nice. January is going to be harsh....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Road Trip!

Day 2 of the family visit and I decided it was time to take them on a road trip. Granted, the road to Abu Dhabi isn't the most fascinating piece of highway, but it meant we escaped from Dubai for a day, and my parents can tell everyone that they've visited somewhere different whilst they're here.

The reason for the trip: the stunning Sheikh Zayed Mosque. I've driven past it many many times on the way to client meetings, and even spent a weekend looking at it from my sunlounger at the divine Shangri-la. It's open every day until 12, but if you want to go on a guided tour, you have to go on a weekday, and you have to be there by 10. At 7 in the morning when I was dragging myself out of bed (that's just wrong on a day off!) I did question my judgement, but once we arrived I knew it had been worth it.

Interesting point to note: it's one of the world's biggest mosques and as such attracts hundreds of visitors each day. So you'd think that it would be easy to find some directions to it, no? Or that it would be very clearly sign-posted on the main road in from Dubai? WRONG! This is the Middle East, folks. We like to let you work it out for yourselves!

In this case it meant that I had to rely on blind luck and memory to get us there. And despite the fact that we were parked right nest to the mosque, this apparently wasn't the 'acceptable' way to enter it. Cue one jobsworth security guard facing me off for ten minutes refusing to let us in. After much cajoling and feminine wiles (sorry feminist movement!) he let us in. The sight of my parents and grandma running across the lawn at high speed will stay with me for quite some time!

They kit you out with an abaya and shayla and then you're good to go. I didn't catch our guide's name but she was a very lovely Australian lady who knew everything about the mosque. I don't know what it is about places of worship - churches/mosques/whatever - but I always find them very relaxing - and this place is no different. In fact it's so awe-inspiring that you can't help but be rendered silent for much of the tour.

I'm not a historian so you can find some background to the mosque here. To sum it up - it is stunningly beautiful, all white marble and precious metals. It contains three of the world's largest chandeliers. And the world's largest carpet. One of the most moving parts is that it's the resting place of the late Shiekh Zayed. his mausoleum is just outside the mosque, and as you walk past you can hear what sounds like a call to prayer. It's actually a series of people reading the Qoran. They're done this, every single day since his death five years ago, such is how much he was, and still is, revered.
If you get the chance to visit - I really recommend it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Loving Strictly!

I know I'm not the only one watching Strictly, but it's still a bit embarrassing to admit how much I'm going to miss it when it ends this month. Quite aside from the over the top camp glamour of it all, and the wonder that is Ricky Whittle in a shirt slashed to the naval, it's a really great way to still feel connected to the UK and people back home.

My BBC iplayer stopped working last week which meant I temporarily missed my UK tv fix. I don't have much spare time to watch tv, so when I do have the odd hour, I want to watch something decent (now there's a challenge when living in Dubai!) After a few days of IT hell, I managed to fix it. After a very enjoyable romp through Strictly, I then worked my way through Gavin and Stacey, Jonathan Ross, and......Delia Smith's Christmas. Note to self: you're turning into your mother....

Ain't Misbehaving...

LOVE this post from a fellow Dubai blogger. It's about crime recorded on Dubai beaches. Dubai's Desperate Housewife sums it perfectly, so I won't repeat her points, but one of my favourites is: 8 offences for theft.....that's in ten months, folks.
Compare that to the UK, and Dubai suddely dosn't look like such a tough place to live, eh? I've been meaning to mention this in my 'defence of Dubai' posts recently - partly triggered by one of my dear friend's Facebook status updates last week:

Enjoyed a nice jaunt into town with the boys until finding out our car had been broken into. stereo, ripped out. ipod gone. personal items gone. Car door f*cked, . husband with red rage, children crying. happy christmas you selfish, lazy scroats.
Say what you want about Dubai, but the lack of crime and general feeling of safety is just one of the many reasons I love living here.

Those that know me, know I love the UK, and Manchester in particular. BUT: I don't miss having to think twice about where you park the car, remembering to remove anything remotely valuable about it, and turning the ipod volume down when walking down dark roads in case anyone tries to creep up on you.

Em, darling, hope the car is sorted. Big love to you and the boys...

Oh Snow!

I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my family. In all the excitement and drama of the 'will they/won't they' BA strike, I hadn't even thought about the weather. As the UK got colder and colder, I laughed to friends, exclaiming: "No need to worry, it hasn't snowed in Jersey for at least 15 years." And then, of course, it did.

If you think that the UK grinds to a halt when it snows, then you haven't seen Jersey. Two flakes and the schools were closed. Three flakes and the buses and taxis stopped running. At this stage I assumed there must have been at least a foot of snowfall, but my dear mum assured me that not a flake was sticking to the roads. Pandemonium!

Anyway, this inevitably meant airport chaos yesterday. Jersey Airport is the size of a postage stamp and ill equipped for bad weather. Unfortunate really, as Jersey, despite being blessed with a lot of lovely sunny weather, also has a tendency to get fog bound. I've lost count of the amount of hours I've had to kill there whilst delayed. And even had to collect my bags and fall on the mercy of my parents for one more night when the entire place shut down.

I spent a good part of yesterday evening on the Jersey Airport website (surely the most traffic they've had all year!) and was just starting to panic when by 8 pm, not a single flight had taken off. Thankfully, my midnight, they were staring to clear.

And this morning, my family were airborne! They still have another flight to catch from Gatwick, but I'm sure the universe knows just how much they want to be here. See you soon!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another New Kid on the Block

Went to a launch party at a gorgeous new hotel last night - The Address down at the Marina. The hotel is stunning, as are the other Addresses, and they do know how to spoil their guests.

Sitting on v comfy beanbags next to the infinity pool whilst a dj played house classics brought back memories of too many launch parties in Manchester. The ones where one glass of warm wine and half a canape made it to you if you were lucky.
No danger of going hungry last night - numerous cooking stations, free flowing wine, and lovely staff really made for a very good evening. Thanks to Karim for the invite and also the updates on the Armani Hotel in the Burj Dubai. Now THAT sounds interesting. Readers, you'll be the first to hear all about it...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tinkling the Ivories....

I walked past a man tuning a piano this morning. I should just qualify this by saying that I’ve started walking to work again – the temperature is cooler and I’m embracing any opportunity to whittle my waistline. My journey takes me through Dubai Mall. There’s a variety of routes I can take, and when I feel the need to look at beautiful things, I stroll through ‘Fashion Avenue’. As it sounds, it’s populated by big name fashion brands, hence gorgeous window displays.

This morning I had a neb at Chloe, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Temperley and Missoni. And for some reason, which I’m sure will become clear next time I walk past, they’ve installed a grand piano outside Ralph Lauren, hence the aforementioned piano tuner.

I was instantly transported back to being 11 years old and piano lessons. The thing with the piano is that it requires a lot of practice. I could blame my poor skills on the fact that we didn’t have a piano, but if I’m honest, the lack of practice is what did for me. I did remember that the one tune which I can belt out is: Noel. And it’s Christmas! Any venue with a piano – watch out – I may not be able to control myself!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dubai Bashing

Contrary to popular belief, no Dubai isn't slipping off the face of the earth. And there categorically isn't a feeling of 'the last day's of Rome' as one journo in The Times stated.

As usual the UK press just loves to build them up, and knock 'em down...and nowhere is this more true than where Dubai is concerned.

One of the worst articles I read was this piece in The Sun. Clearly the idiot bus had pulled up alongside the journalist in question when he was looking for comments.

Quotes like this from a munter called Paul : "It's a fantastic place to be a single bloke. Tuesdays is ladies night in the bars and its wall-to-wall women. Loads of air hostesses are based here" should really alert you to the fact that this might not be your average decent person. Clearly a munter - and they're everywhere, not just here. Scroll down to check out Paul's photo and I'd be surprised if he ever gets lucky on a Tuesday....

Another article compared hotel prices in Dubai to those in Doncaster - apparently it's cheaper to stay here than in that gorgeous (!) UK city. What a load of tosh. The hotels they used as a comparison are budget and nowhere that you'd be in a hurry to stay. And I'm not being funny, and at the risk of offending the people of Doncaster - I know where I'd rather holiday....

Built to Last?

It's been raining for the last few days here in Dubai. Yes, I know. As it's gorgeous for the other 360 days a year, I really shouldn't moan. So I won't. I will say that I'd almost forgotten what an effect terrible weather has on my mood. I couldn't put my finger on why I had a niggling feeling of moroseness (is that a word?) all weekend - despite getting up to all sorts of festive fun. It can only be the weather. Grey skies, rain, eurgh.

Anyway, my observation this morning is that buildings, whilst looking pretty good in Dubai, have go to be questionable on the quality front. Yes, I appreciate that it doesn't rain often here, but still, is that an excuse for the gallons of water that were pouring through the ceiling of the car park this morning? Or the 10 (yes, 10) large buckets placed strategically in the souk near my apartment, all with water pouring into them....

Despite all this rain, I still walked to work this morning (cue gasps of horror from colleagues.) It may be raining but it's still in the 20's, so it's a more pleasant stroll than my Manchester days. Days when you wouldn't dare leave the house in the rain without gloves on as your hands would freeze to ice whilst clutching the brolly handle.

I'm hoping that this is going to stop before Christmas Day - it has two weeks to pull itself together. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Carol

If you get a chance, go and see A Christmas Carol. And preferably in 3D. I knew I’d love it – I’m a sucker for the story and when it comes to 3D – well the first ten minutes of Harry Potter earlier in the year had us all enchanted. And screaming (apologies to anyone sat near us that day in July.)

I can’t stand Jim Carrey which was almost enough to put me off but thankfully by some weird computer CGI wizardry, you can’t really tell that it’s him. Likewise with Bob Hoskins and Gary Oldman, who also star in the film.

I’m sure that everyone knows the CC story, so I won’t bore you with that – but I will bore you with how amazing the 3D effects are. There’s so many opportunities to showcase it, flying over and through the streets of Victorian London (in the snow!), horse-drawn carriage chases, and the obligatory ghost scenes.

One small thing – if you’re taking kids with you, it’s, ahem, quite scary. A little girl in front of us had to be taken out in floods of tears when the first ghost appeared, and to be honest, it did cross my mind to join her. But it’s also hilarious in equal measure. And brilliant. Go see it. We sang Christmas carols all the way to the nearest bar afterwards…..

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Can We Stay Here Forever?

We never got tired of heading out on game drives. Towards the end of the trip we’d really got into our safari groove, scanning the horizon with binoculars like true professionals. You literally see something new every time you head out – and you never know what it will be.

Anderson our guide had lived in the Mara his whole life and worked as a guide for years and years – and he was still genuinely thrilled each time we saw an animal. His exclamations of ‘oh my god’ when we saw a leopard or rhino, and his excited giggles when cheetah played in front of the car were really infectious.

It was a sad day when we had to leave, and a sombre drive to the airstrip with Anderson. I think the big man had a tear in his eye - Andrea and I definitely did, although each for different reasons - I'd seen the minuscule plane we had to get into!

There’s definitely something in the air in Kenya which makes it extremely special. It’s not just the landscape, the animals, the amazing people, there’s something about the soul of the place which is captivating, relaxing and exciting in equal measure. In case you hadn’t realized, I loved it. If you’re thinking of going – head there soon…and hit me up for all my travel details…you HAVE to stay at Olonana…

Drama, Comedy, Suspense…Safari has it All

As I mentioned earlier, in the main we were overwhelmed by how peaceful the Masai Mara is. A large proportion of the animals are herbivores, so spend their days happily munching grass, trees and bushes.

But obviously, there’s the meat-eaters. And there’s quite a lot of them. And by Day 3 it stood to reason that we were going to see something getting eaten.

The lions were the first predators we saw in action, and they make quite a team. They’re amazingly impressive up close, and it’s easy to forget that they’re basically enormous killing machines. We watched a pride chase a wart-hog into a hole and then spend the next hour digging it out. Patience and tenacity in spades.

Later we discovered that one of the resident leopards (and there was only three in the near vicinity) had been killed by a hyena. We went to see the evidence- not pleasant. Anderson was visibly moved and it was a very sobering moment.

Another occasion saw us literally stumble over a cheetah who had just eaten – evident by it’s huge stomach and bloody mouth. It was obviously slipping into a food coma and was far too sated to do anything other than collapse on its back into a heap, which allowed us the most amazing close-up view of its tummy. Crying out to be tickled. Joke.

Later we saw a group of nine lions stalk another wart-hog. Watching them emerge slowly slowly from the bushes and stalk it through the long grass was honestly a ‘heart in the mouth’ moment. The warthog escaped unscathed in the end, by which time my nerves were shot to pieces.

On our last day we got a flat tyre, right in the middle of the bush. On one side of us were elephants, the other side giraffe, and behind us a huge group of antelope. The big sort. Didn’t help my nerves that only the day before we’d seen lions in that very spot. Thankfully Anderson proved to be a dab hand at changing tyres and we were only out of the car for about ten minutes.

Thankfully all this drama and suspense we came across some elephants wallowing in a muddy hole. It was truly hilarious and a typical example of the range of emotions that you experience on safari. Amazing.

Questions To Ask Your Safari Guide

Every day brought a barrage of questions for Anderson, our affable and highly knowledgeable guide (pictured here helping us to set up breakfast). How he put up with us, I don’t know. Here's what he had to endure during our trip:

Q: What does /y/z animal eat?
A: Dependent on animal, of course.

Q: Does x/y/z animal sleep at night?
A: As above. Giraffes sleep lying down but with their necks straight up in the air. Who knew?

Q: Where does x/y/z animal sleep at night?
A: Completely depends. Leopards stay up in the trees.

Q: Why don’t leopards fall out of the trees?
A: They balance themselves cleverly.

Q: What’s your favourite animal?
A: Cheetah, because they’re very friendly.

Q: Why aren’t animals green for camouflage?
A: Anderson quite rightly ignored this question.

Q: Can you do any animal impressions?
A: Although at first Anderson was reluctant to do any impressions he did later crack out a great cheetah noise. (A high pitched squeak and not at all what we were expecting!)

Q: What lives in that hole?
A: A hyena. Or a warthog. I wasn’t going to stick my head into it to find out.

Q: If the car broke down, would the animals eat us.
A: (After much laughter) No. This was proved to be correct when the car did in fact, break down.

Q: What are your views on zoos?
A: Anderson has never visited a zoo but isn’t keen on how they sound. At all.

Q: Where does the petrol for the 4x4’s come from?
A: A tanker makes a 4 day trip from Nairobi once a month and fills a tank on-site.

Q: Why do giraffes have blue tongues?
A: The only question that stumped Anderson. I happen to know the answer after a trip to Desert Islands and their resident giraffe group. Think you know the answer? Let me know and I’ll tell you if you’re right!

The Early Bird Catches The…..

Our first full day on the Mara started early – it’s best to get up and out by 6.30 am as it’s cooler and the animals are more active. After a sleepless night (see previous post) it wasn’t easy getting out of bed, but it’s amazing how quickly you perk up with the cool breeze blowing over you, a beautiful sunrise, and the sight of hot air balloons rising slowly in the distance.

We soon realized what the blankets in the car were for (Queen Mother chic) but we didn’t need them for long. And to be honest, the excitement of seeing a leopard (Big 5: Done) meant that any thoughts about temperature went out of the window.

After rocking around the Mara for almost three hours Anderson drove us to a perfect spot on the banks of the river: breakfast time. I’m not sure what I was imagining but it wasn’t a five course gourmet feast, with hot coffee. Amazing. More animal bothering and then back to the camp for lunch. I’m sure we did more each day than just eat and drink wine!

Oh yes, we also went to the spa. Yes, on top of all the other luxurious touches, there was a spa in camp. The memory of lying in the open air next to the river being massaged, lifting up my head and realizing we were being watched by a baboon and a hippo, will stay with me for quite some time!

That evening took a magical turn. Up until that point there’d only been a few people in the camp with us, but some new arrivals meant our numbers had risen to nine. Nothing like feeling you’re in your own private hide-away. Because of this the camp decided to throw us a surprise party…..in the middle of the bush, under the moonlight. They tricked us into going with promises of moonlight animal watching, and as we did actually stop to watch hippos grazing, we all fell for it. It was pretty special to sit under the stars and the full moon with a cold glass of wine whilst (yet another) amazing meal was prepared for us.

We did have a brief altercation with the Texan contingent after a particularly stupid comment by them about the Middle East. Needless to say Auntie Andrea put them in their place, which meant that they gave us a wide berth for the rest of their stay..bothered?!

Anyway all of that was forgotten after a few hours of wine and food. And the highlight….the entire camp arrived, with guitars, singing their own Olonana Camp song. In what can only be described as a conga. It might sound cack, but it was hilarious. Obviously the English girls were straight up out of their seats and joining in (no coincidence that we were propositioned about ten times by the end of the trip. We did consider how we’d cope with the life in the local village but decided on balance, we couldn’t hack it). Some enchanted evening.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Sleeping in a tent, albeit a luxury one with a wooden ‘skin’ does take a bit of getting used to, namely because you are right in the heart of nature.

The first night I felt like I woke up every hour on the hour – at one point because A woke up and thought there was someone in the tent (not likely as we had a Masai tribesman outside it all night).

Otherwise it was the strange sounds and noises that kept waking me. At any given point you could hear (in no particular order): hippos grunting (very loud), the river running and gurgling, cow bells, crickets, birds and Egyptian geese. It was mayhem out there! My first night back in my Dubai bed actually felt very quiet by comparison.

Animal Bothering

To be honest, it would be easier to tell you what we didn’t see…but even then, I’d struggle! We started spotting animals the moment we got off the plane at the airstrip. Here’s what I can remember:

The Big 5 – lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino and elephant. Not in the Big 5 but still amazing: giraffe, zebra, serval, baboon, hippo, water buffalo, vulture, eagle, warthog (amazing!), hyena, wildebeest, mongoose, antelope, crocodile, bat, lizard, jackal. They kept us very busy!

My Top Safari Tips

Keep your mouth closed most of the time, and especially when you’re driving across the Mara in your 4x4. Insects were never really a problem but there were a fair few winged creatures bouncing off my head as we went along. At one point the girl sat behind me announced: Kelly, I’m about to hit you on the head, but it’s because there’s a giant bug on it. Hurl! I would have hated for that to go anywhere near my mouth…

It’s not THAT cold…and it’s not THAT hot. I’d heard horror stories about how utterly freezing it becomes at night – what a load of rubbish! Maybe it’s because I’m used to harsh Northern England winters, but 15 degrees at night is not cold to me. Duncan our butler very kindly popped a hot water bottle in our beds each night, but I never needed it.

Safari dust is like glue. I’m used to living in the desert with a fine covering of sand over my balcony/inside my flat etc etc, but this stuff is different. After a day animal watching I’d use a face wipe, wash my face, have a shower, and STILL the towel would be black with dust at the end. What’s in it?!

Consider taking a sports bra with you. No, I’m not joking. I can’t describe the state of the roads – well they’re not roads, just tracks through the Mara. The first day I felt like I needed spine surgery – you do get used to it by the end of your trip. Back to my original trip – if you’re, ahem, blessed in the chest department, you could find this endless bouncing around quite painful…..

Make sure you take binoculars. You spend a huge part of your time scanning the horizon for..well..anything. Without them you'll just be looking at a load of grass for days.....

Half the Adventure is Getting There….

Safari, stage one……in all the excitement of getting up at stupid o’clock to get to Sharjah airport (incidentally, it may not be the most modern of terminals, but Air Arabia are amazing) I completely forgot that I do, on occasion get extremely travel sick. As in: raging nausea, hot sweats, in short: wanting to die. It didn’t help that the flight started out quite bumpy, and it also didn’t help that a) the guy sat across the aisle to me kept burping really loudly (nice) or that b) the girl sat next to him spent half an hour throwing up noisily into a carrier bag. Anyway, after some travel sickness tablets I came around..over the counter pharmaceuticals from Dubai somehow seem so much more powerful and effective than back home!

4.5 hours later we arrived at Nairobi airport to be met by our first lovely guide, Joseph. He was at pains to take us through every item on our itinerary- we were in a frenzy of excitement and trying to crack open bottles of wine in the back of the car (you can take the girl out of Manchester..).

We’d opted to stay just outside of the city in a gorgeous place called the House of Waine. It’s a private house that has been converted into a guest house. It’s small boutique style place with themed rooms and gorgeous gardens. There wasn’t much to do apart from drink wine, chill in the gardens, and eat. Bliss.

Next morning and the moment I’d been dreading…..the Safari Link plane down to the Masai Mara. I’m not scared of flying, in fact I love travelling and never think twice about getting on a plane. Big planes, that is. Small planes, I don’t get along with. It’s something I just can’t control, they terrify me.

This plane was a 13 seater - If I’d have known at this stage how much smaller the plane on the return route would be….well, that’s a story for later. Our pilot introduced himself – Jackson – it didn’t help that he looked about 12, and was there really any need for him to keep insulting the map as we went along?? It wasn’t really instilling me with confidence. I won’t go into the torrid detail, but there were tears… I could barely get off the plane at the end, but soon perked up when we were met by our wonderful guide for the next five days, Anderson.

We’d barely been in the 4x4 for five minutes when we started making our first sightings, by the time we arrived at Olonana Camp we were in a state of near-hysteria. The head of staff, Maurice (they all have such English names!) and introduced us to Daniel, our personal waiter, Duncan, our butler, and a myriad of other people on hand to look after us. Spoilt isn’t even the word.

After an amazing lunch we headed out on our first afternoon game drive. We saw everything, apart from a leopard (which we saw the next morning). Truly amazing. What Anderson doesn’t know about animals really isn’t worth knowing. We rounded off the evening with wine, dinner, and cards by the fire. Bliss.

I'm Back! Did You Miss Me?!

Safari…where do I start? There’s just so so much to write about, and I make no apologies for my blog being completely safari orientated for the next few days! Before I get into the detail, one of my main impressions of the Masai Mara was just how peaceful it was. Not literally, although it was incredibly quiet, just birdsong and the wind moving through the trees and bushes..but more in terms of how everything lives alongside each other in harmony.

Years of watching David Attenborough programmes, with their scenes of chases and kills, all set to dramatic music, made me expect a place of high drama. There were definitely moments of tension and drama (more on that later!) but overall serenity was the name of the game. Giraffe grazed next to zebra, rhino, antelope and baboons, whilst a leopard watched from a tree above. It was a lesson in co-existing which we could all learn a lot from. More safari updates very soon….

Monday, November 23, 2009

Spoke too Soon...

Ok, ok, I probably deserve it after poking fun at everyone in the UK and their weather-related Facebook moanings. Yes, it's been raining in Dubai. Now, let's be clear: we're not talking UK rain: endless drizzle, pounding rain and hail which doesn't let up for days/weeks/months (hello January 2008) at a time. It's usually a very quick burst and all over.

Yesterday an email from my friend Liberty in DIFC popped up at about 4 pm: "It's raining! You cannot imagine the hysteria this is causing in the office!"

Despite DIFC being about 5 mins from my office, the rain never materialised. This didn't stop the entire team running to the windows every five minutes to check.

It hasn't dampened (sorry) my mood though, despite having to stop off on the way home to by an umbrella (fail to plan, plan to fail). I haven't had to use it, yet. Watch this space.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to Cut and Paste

If you know me well, you’ll know that I didn’t choose hip-hip, hip-hop chose me (TM Maggie Doyle). Apart from a major dalliance with house music in my mis-spent youth, hip-hop is very much my wife. House music is my mistress (TM Trevor Nelson).

So it was with much excitement that I heard that DJ Yoda was in Dubai this weekend. If you haven’t seen him live before you’re missing a complete treat. I’ve loved him where I’ve seen him and his ‘How to Cut and Paste’ albums are a regular on my ipod. Now he’s started mixing music to video too, which is pretty spectacular. Especially in a huge open air club underneath the stars. My favourite part? When he mixed Inspector Gadget into Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Awesome.

Somehow my friend Ali woke up the next day with a twisted ankle and I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. dancing for 4 hours non-stop will do that to a girl. Hey, when you've been starved of decent music for a while, you get a little out of control. That's how we roll, Dubai!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting Married...Arabic Style...

Did I mention that I went to my first ever Arabic wedding last week? It was amazing!

I knew that the stakes would be high as far as looking glam was concerned: the bride is one of the most stunning girls I've ever seen, and regularly arrives at work looking better than I do on a proper night out. It's been a while since I've had to get wedding super-glammed but never being one to turn from a challenge, I embraced the task with gusto.

A trip to Martin the hairdresser (hello Martin!) resulted in a fabulous blonde bob. And for the first time ever I said the immortal words to him: make it big. Regular readers will know that you take your life in your hands when you visit the hairdresser here - one false move and you end up looking like Ivana Trump....but on this occasion, I felt size mattered.

So what happens at an Arabic wedding? Well, they're all different, and this one wasn't super traditional - but it was very different to a wedding in the UK.

Firstly: no booze. As the venue was one of Dubai's many flash hotels, it of course had a very flash bar upstairs, so the work posse swung by there first for a few g&t's/beers/champagne shooters. As you do.

Next stop: the ballroom. Now the invite said to arrive at 8.30. But as I've learned in my time in the Middle East, timings are something to aim for, not to stick to. Hence the bride and groom didn't make an appearance until 10.15. But what an entrance!

It's called the zaffir, and goes like this: huge group of male dancers in traditional dress storm the ballroom, drums, music, general tribal craziness. The crowd goes wild (Including me. When in Rome....) Dancers/drummers lead you outside to the foot of the world's biggest staircase, where you wait for the big entrance. The noise at this point is deafening: singing/shouting/drumming/crowd cheering. Seriously, for a moment I thought I was back at a Take That concert (JASON!!!!)
And finally......the moment we'd been waiting for, the bride and groom appear and are walked, very slowly down the stairs, accompanied my dancers/singers etc. I'm not doing the whole thing justice, it truly was an amazing spectacle.

The next few hours are a frenzy of dancing/congratulating the happy couple, marvelling at just how stunning the bride is (and OMG, she really was. Zaina, I'm in awe of you). And then comes the food. To be honest, by 12.30 am the urge to eat had rather passed me by, but it did look amazing. And then the party continues. As a lightweight, I left just before 2 am, but the party was still in full flow. There was even a conga - obviously devvoed to miss this.

Now I've never been one to hanker after a big white wedding - in my mind this spells BORING - but this was truly fantastic. Just something to think about...! Zaina and Tarek, thank you so much for the invitation, mabrook!
Some pics of the happy couple and the work gang here. Don't we scrub up well!

This Time Last Year..

It rained in Dubai! Yes, a very unusual occurrence. I can report that today is as gorgeous as ever: sunshine, clear blue sky, about 35 degrees. Bliss. Sorry UK friends...I've been watching the weather reports with utter horror - what is going on? It looks like a scene from 'The Day After Tomorrow' back there!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finally....My Metro Review!

So, it finally happened: I rode the Dubai Metro!!!!! Yes, two months after it opened I got to see what all the fuss was about (well, what all my fuss was about anyway!) Why so long? Well here’s the thing – not all of the metro stations are open yet and they’re not massively convenient to my home or workplace. If I was going t make a trip I’d have to get a taxi to the nearest station and again at the other end. So I haven’t got round to it.

Yesterday the scene on leaving the airshow was nothing short of carnage. They’d clearly tried to sort some shuttle buses, but as they were all gridlocked outside, with no clear signage, it was going to be a complete gamble as to a) whether you would actually move in the next 24 hours b) your destination would be anywhere near where you were trying to get to.

The taxi queue resembled a refugee camp with frazzled suits – it was literally about 100 metres long. So that was quickly ruled out as an option.

So I and an intrepid colleague decided that the only option left was…the metro. This being Dubai the nearest station was a good 15 minute walk away, and involved walking on a 4 lane highway (we laugh in the face of pavements/sidewalks here!) grass verges (with sprinklers on – not a treat!) sandy trenches and gravel. It really was an adventure – and that was before we’d even arrived at the station.

So what’s it like? Here are my general observations:

Overall – it’s pretty sparkly. And as the Manchester metro is my last frame of reference it does look super-clean, super-slick. But then it is brand-spanking new.
The stations look a bit like airports – busy, bustling, well-lit, with coffee shops and cafes. Nice.
Why the need for the muzak in the carriages? It’s bad enough having to endure this in lifts/when on hold etc – no need in the metro, IMO.
It was packed! And not just with fellow airshow escapees, although there were a fair few of those. Joe Public has really embraced the metro, it seems.
It’s cheap – 90p for a 20 minute journey. I’m sure the equivalent in Manchester (Victoria to Bury) would be triple or quadruple that….
People are still excited to use it, as demonstrated by the fact that I wasn’t the only one taking photos of the journey!

Some people who clearly use the metro regularly have embraced the whole commuter attitude/stance – rushing to get off the train, leaning forward and exiting at high-speed. I’m sure if I had to use it every day I’d be the same but for me it was welcome respite from the grid-locked roads below (the Dubai metro is elevated above the highways) and just an overall interesting experience.

Oh and as I had hoped: you can neb right into people’s apartments. Brilliant. Not sure when I’ll be using it next, but for now, thanks metro!

An Officer and a.....?

Yesterday I made my first trip to Dubai Airshow. Well actually my first trip to any airshow. I didn’t really know what to expect, and at the end of the day, I was there to work, so my interest was limited on the way there. On arrival though, everything changed. HOT MEN IN UNIFORM everywhere…..US Military, US Navy, and my personal favourite: fighter pilots sauntering around without a care in the world. And yes, they were wearing aviators.

As is usual in Dubai, whenever any big event takes place the city descends into gridlock chaos. I’m not sure why. The transport system, much as they are trying to improve it (ie with the new Metro – more on that later) still isn’t exactly joined up, meaning that people tend to rely on taxis. And with that many people trying to get to one place it’s never going to be easy.

Security was extremely tight, which is understandable at an airshow, but I really didn’t think that the jobsworth attitude of the men on the scanners was necessary ON THE WAY OUT. I had to present not one but two passes, my ticket, and my driving licence. Oh, and I had to confirm what my name was. Call me a cynic but could this over-zealous attitude be in any way related to the fact that I was pretty much the only Western female in the place? And definitely the only blonde. Ah well. My irritation was immediately soothed by bumping into the French fighter pilot team outside. Viva la France!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Festive Cheer

It's never too early to talk about Christmas! Last night when on a safari wardrobe mission in Dubai Mall I was delighted to see that retailers are beginning to get the Christmas decs up. Hilariously, the trees and decs in Debenhams are right next to the bikinis - that's why I live in Dubai!

I didn't go for a tree last year - the fact that I have limited storage space combined with the fact that trees cost about as much as gold here put me off, but I have to say, this year I'm feeling the love. We'll see.

Either way, I'm already feeling festive. Last year was a complete novelty as my first festive period in a hot country, this year life is so much better in so many ways that I just can't wait..... Now I just need a copy of the Muppets Christmas Carol and a Motown christmas cd, and I'll be all set!

All Work but Lots of Play

I KNOW I’ve been far too quiet on the blog front recently. The usual excuse: I need an extra five hours in the day! I got lulled into a very false sense of security during Ramadan; my hours weren’t massively reduced but I definitely managed to leave early more often than not which meant a whole new world of socializing was available to me…..how things change back in the daily grind. Oh – and remember boot camp? Well somehow I thought it was a good idea (correction, my arse thought it was a good idea) to sign up for a month long programme where I have to go twice, yes twice a week. That means I have about hmmmmm one night to myself each week, throw in a few 12/14 hours days and I’m not much use to anyone! Anyway, rant over. It’s all good. Thank god for beach club at the weekends! Somehow memories of every insane week are erased as the white wine hits the glass, a celeb magazine is opened, and the sunlounger is flattened.

I don’t seem to have a free weekend until January – how did that happen? What with numerous overseas weekend visitors in the next month (you know who you are!), a music festival (more to follow), the small matter of my LUXURY ONCE IN A LIFETIME SAFARI TRIP (with our own private butler, just in case you’d forgotten that bit) then parents, then Cathy and New Year – where did the year go? I’m genuinely not complaining, you know me, I love being busy and like nothing more than a very full diary - especially when work is so unforgiving and all-consuming in the week. I’m not one for philosophy but there was a philosopher on Chris Evans this week who said: we worry about wasting time, wasting money, when the only thing that we should worry about wasting is our life.

I think I can safely say I’m wringing the absolute best out of every moment….

A Dog Called Ginger

Dogs are few and far between in Dubai, so when I meet them, it always makes me smile. There’s a fair few canines knocking around my complex, none so cute as a Jack Russell called Ginger. Ginger arrived about nine months ago and instantly bewitched residents and staff alike – weighing under a kilo (that’s 2 pounds, UK readers) she was a super cute and very tiny bundle of rocket fuel that found everything and anything THE MOST EXCITING THING IN THE WORLD!!!

So imagine my delight when I popped into my local spa the other night to be sat next to none other than: Ginger’s mum! We had a lovely chat about dogs/Ginger/life with Ginger/Ginger’s routines…you get the picture. Yes, I am a saddo. But to be honest it’s so rare to meet anyone who has a canine mindset that we had a lot to cover. The spa girls found this whole thing fascinating – dogs aren’t top of the priority list in their home countries. Apparently taking Ginger for a walk is a challenge in itself as all the ex-pats are (naturally) all over her like a rash. Bless. As I pointed out: if you can resist Ginger, there’s a brick swinging where your heart should be…..

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to.....

I don't know what it is, but ever since I moved to Dubai, I've had the most insane and random dreams. In the main they're just extremely odd and unbelievably vivid, but sometimes they're horrific nightmares. I've no idea what causes them, and I can't say for sure that they're caused by Dubai, but I know I never experienced anything like this back in the UK. Here's a quick snapshot of some recent bizarre night time dream topics:

  • Bats (a bat, living in my bedroom)
  • Clowns (the hideous clown from the Stephen King 'IT' film. Eurgh)
  • Snow
  • Donkeys (one was giving birth and I was assisting)
  • Strictly Come Dancing (having an affair with Brian Fortuna)
  • Plane crash (which I was on)
  • Stephen Gately (I was there with Boyzone when Ronan Keating confessed he murdered him. Note to self: is this a premonition?!)
  • Cats in Car Chase (Frank clinging onto the back of a car with me in hot pursuit)

I like a good dream as much as the next person, but this is starting to get ridiculous.

"Hello...is that the loony bin? You've come to take me away, you say?? OK, I'll come quietly."

Give me strength!

Jog On!

Here’s a tip: after a month of zero exercise, an hour of gruelling boxing bootcamp might not be the best way to ease yourself back into mobility. But, never one to do things by halves, that’s exactly what I did last night.

You may remember that during Ramadan I was a lean mean gym machine, with at least four visits a week under my belt. Fast forward to normal working hours, where leaving the office at 7.30 pm is standard procedure, and my gym visits have dwindled somewhat. Call me old-fashioned, but after a long day I’m reaching for friends/wine/dinner, not the gym kit. Are you with me?!

The beauty of Dubai is that now the weather is getting colder (and by cold, I mean 34 during the day) it means that the evenings are positively gorgeous – 29 degrees last night. This means that all sorts of outdoor exercise and activity is now an option. Hence the bootcamp. There’s lots of these here – on the beach, in parks, all offering the chance to train in the fresh air (and in pubic view, which is why I’ve avoided them for so long.) But, to be fair, I have to say last night was an absolute hoot. I spent a large proportion of it laughing til I cried..(or was that the pain?)....

Yes, the first ten minutes were utter hell (my body really isn’t used to punching and kicking the living daylights out of someone after a 12 hour day) but we soon got the hang of it. Going with the girls made it all the more hilarious (what goes on at bootcamp, stays at bootcamp.) James, the cute burly instructor, did make a few sympathetic comments about our (lack of) ability: “Don’t worry, it doesn’t come naturally to some people”, and my favourite: “Oh, bless” after a wrong move saw me kick a dear friend almost in the groin. Sorry!

We left hot, tired, but feeling pretty virtuous. See you next week for more punishment!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Am I Getting Old?

An event invite popped into my in-box this morning. Nothing unusual about that. As with most cities, there's events every night of the week in Dubai. But my response was, perhaps not the usual:

It starts at what time???? (10 pm)
Who on earth is that dj????
On a Sunday??? (Sunday is the equivalent of our Monday here)
To be fair, my colleagues who we are also invited, and are a fair few (ahem) years younger than me, all had the same reaction. Not just me that's getting old then!
It's at the new Cavalli Club, opened by, yes you guessed it, Roberto Cavalli. I haven't been in yet (which is a shameful admission when it's been open for at least 4 months) so my curiosity to see just how over-blinged it is may outweigh my desire to stay in my pj's...will keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Safari, So Good

Did I mention that I'm off on safari?! Yes, at the end of November we shall be jetting off to Nairobi (a bargain basement 180 flight from Dubai!) and then heading down to the Masai Mara for four nights. Just in case you're worried about me slumming it, we'll be staying in a lodge from the Conde Nast Gold List. They don't let any old Tom, Dick or Harry onto that list, you know.

We're talking boutique - just 14 tents, each with its own private butler. Well, after the team of staff in Sri Lanka it would be hard to do without them, non?

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my, are just a short drive away, and get this: there's a family of hippos in the river next to the tents. Treat!

It's something I've wanted to do my whole life, so needless to say, excitement is at fever pitch. There are of course, the crucial questions about what to wear/take with us, not to mention a few personal fears that I'm going to have to overcome. I can't even talk about the four/six legged/winged issue, and don't get me started on flying to the Mara in a plane the size of a postage stamp.

Today's trials included the yellow fever jab (and for those who saw me after the last lot of jabs in July, this could get ugly later) and discussing which malaria tablets are last likely to make you suicidal. Nice. Even better - the best one on the market, with no side effects, ISN'T AVAILABLE IN THE UAE. My doctor was very apologetic and suggested something else - but then revealed that he thought twice about taking them as they're supposed to be so bad.

Which begs the question: malaria: how bad can it be?!

Off Radar

If I've been a bit quiet it's because I've been so so busy this last week. I can't claim it's all been work, although I didn't leave the office til 9 on Thursday (not a treat the day before the weekend) and worked most of Friday afternoon (my weekend).....it's also been one big party...

Always lovely to see friends, especially when they arrive with fizz, champagne glasses, books, dvds, and UK newspapers! Take note, future visitors!

I'm too tired for a full update - those of you on Facebook will have seen the evidence. Let's just say it was hard to decide whether to file the weekend under M for Mayhem, R for Rampage, or B for Bedlam. 30 friends in school uniform dancing to Britney and the Backstreet Boys is very, very, funny. Trust me!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Coming Soon, Honest...the Burj Dubai!

In case I haven't mentioned it enough, the Burj Dubai is right outside my office, and home window. It's a stunning building, not only a feat of engineering but just gorgeous to look at. (Yes, I know not everyone agrees with me on this one!) It's been due to open for ages, but keeps getting delayed, and no wonder: it's absolutely enormous and god knows how many thousands of construction workers are beavering away on a daily basis to try to get it finished.
The powers that be recently decided to put a line in the sand (ahem) and announced that it would open on National Day (December 2nd - also my dad's birthday: hello dad!). National Day is a big public holiday here and everyone gets the day off to celebrate. So it's quite a big deal to say that the beast will be open by then.
I don't often post photos here but here's a couple from my office window. It's stunning. And huge.

The Triple H Hit Dubai

I love, love, love having visitors. This weekend not only do I have the pleasure of the lovely Vikki's company, but I have the added bonus of Michael joining her! As usual there's a fun packed itinerary ahead. I really do need to re-stock the fridge - there's no shortage of wine/beer/gin/fizz, but I'm not sure that's going to help with a morning cuppa. Or is it?! Full details (or the usual abridged version) of our Dubai debauchery will follow next week.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Feeling Naked

Until I moved to Dubai I never realised how precious my passport was. Yes I knew it was crucial for travel, which I did a fair bit, but really it was just something which lived in my travel wallet and sat next to my copies of OK/Now/Heat magazine in my bag when on a plane.

Since I arrived here I cherish it. Not only is it crucial to my existence in terms of identity (and the small detail of my visa - which you can't function without) but it also allows you so much freedom when it comes to travel.

My colleagues from Lebanon, India, Jordan, Egypt, all face issues when they're travelling, even within the GCC. I regularly make the trip to Doha - in some cases I have to go because my MD cannot get a visa. I on the other hand trip up on arrival, hand over cash, and boom, I'm in. And every time I travel anywhere I'm amazed by how little it's scrutinized at immigration - as soon as they see that I'm British, it's pretty much stamped and straight through.

At the moment I'm without it - it had to be surrendered when applying for my new passport. I have a copy in my wallet, but I have to say, I'll feel better when I get it back.

Why We Lost The Empire...?

I went on first trip to the British Embassy today. Nothing serious - I just need a new passport. I was quite excited to go, I have to say (so easily pleased!). I've heard some interesting stories about the place including Pimms parties on the lush lawns! Sadly, I have yet to be invited to such an event...anyway...
It's set behind tall impenetrable looking white walls, with lots of lush trees hanging over them. Getting in through security was as you would expect, surrendering mobile phone and camera. Walkways offered enticing glimpses of aforementioned lush lawns, flowerbeds, and I swear I heard the tinkle of 'Rule Britannia' wafting over the breeze.

So, imagine my disappointment when I reached the actual passport office, only to find that it was a.....PORTACABIN!!! Yes, fellow UK citizens, our safety and interest overseas will be completely protected from within the walls of some corrugated iron and cardboard!

Whilst I wasn't expecting a stately home, I was hoping for something a little more impressive. 90 minutes later and 124 quid lighter I left with a slip of paper telling me to return in two weeks to collect my new, improved, biometric passport. As my UAE visa is in the old passport (the most crucial piece of paper you can have whilst living here) it's important to make sure this isn't lost. Again, I was amazed by the technological solution to this: you keep you old passport, attached to you new one, with.....a RUBBER BAND.

Britain, you really are pushing the boundaries. I salute you.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Thanks Gordon!

I'm in the process of getting a new passport, which is about as tedious as it is in the UK, with one notable difference. In the UK a new passport costs about 77 quid. Here in Dubai it costs....124!!! I'm not sure what the extra 50 quid is for, maybe to cover the salaries of the gin-swilling folk who are supposed to preserve our safety overseas.....hmmmm.
Another interesting aside - I actually have six months before the passport expires, but Dubai immigration are a bit funny about this and won't let you back in the country if you have less than 6 months on your passport. And given how much travelling I do, getting stuck at Dubai airport could be a reality very soon.
Gordon Brown, if you're reading this, do be a dear and explain the price discrepancy. Ta muchly.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Just Another Day at the Office...Not!

There are times when I really love my job, and last week was one of them. No sitting in the office at my desk; instead, heading out to a gaming convention for the day. Yes, I was working (in fact, cleaning floors and dusting down a stand at one point!) but still a fascinating time. I'm not the best gamer in the world - low patience threshold combined with bad hand/eye co-ordination....Buzz is the only game that I can win every time.
My client had flown in the art director and developer of their latest wow game Eye Pet. It's far too hard to explain but basically you create/play/look after a virtual pet, via a camera which sits on top of the tv screen. Here's a video from the event which shows the game in action - it's in Arabic but you'll get the jist. You might even see a certain Britney in the background!

Chatting to the developer and watching them play the game was just insane. Their brains work in a completely different way to anyone that I've met before. And talking of cool jobs, after creating the game, these guys tour the world demonstrating it. A hard life!

A Never-Ending Night

Looking back on my wild social life, there are many many nights which stand out in my memory. The hilarious thing about Dubai is I seem to have a night out like this every single weekend!

Where to start? It's cooling down, a little, at night in Dubai - still a steady 31-32 degrees, but cool enough for the outside bars and beach clubs to start re-opening. So this weekend was all about re-visiting venues that have been closed for the summer. No night in Dubai is complete without visiting at least 3 different bars or clubs, and Friday was no exception.

Despite a warning from friends that the beach was a 'sweaty mess' we headed down there anyway. At midnight it was still very sweaty, but it was worth it to be able to take off our shoes and dance on the sand.

Just when you thought we were safely heading home to bed, we took a wrong (!) turn and ended up in just one more club in time for a final drink and sweep of the dancefloor. As it happened a lot of mutual friends and work colleagues were there. Much fun.

Note to self: there is no need to show off your bogling skills to workmates. To be fair, I think they were impressed. Or that could have been horrified. It was hard to see through the haze of smoke.

As I washed sand out of my shoes on Saturday afternoon, I had a very big giggle to myself. Dubai, we love you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Flashback: Zoo Keeper for the Day

You might wonder why I'm telling you a story about something that happened a long time ago, but my good friend Caplin in Texas was asking me about my day as a zoo keeper, so I sent him a write up and thought: why not share it with you? My blog didn't exist when it took place (I know - can you imagine life without Britney of Arabia?!) so I didn't record the momentous event. To my close friends - you remember this day well - sorry to bore you with it again. But it is a good story!

Chester Zoo in the North of England has come up with an interesting way to generate some extra revenue: every Tuesday they allow members of the public to become zoo keepers for the day.

You can’t just turn up (oh no!) you have to pre-book (and pay a princely sum of course - 250 quid now!) – and let me tell you – depending on which animals you want to look after, there can be a long waiting list. FYI fact fans: monkeys have a wait of over a year – no idea why as I can’t stand the blighters....and lions come a close second. But none of those were of any interest to me..what I wanted to look after were: capybaras (of course!)!

The way it works is that you don’t just look after capys, you are allocated a whole section of the zoo, and capys are in the same part as rhinos, zebras, all sorts of antelope, meerkats. The capys actually live in the same enclosure as tapirs.

So what’s it like being a zoo keeper for a day? Well, you have to get up very early in the morning – bearing in mind that Chester Zoo is an hour’s drive from my hometown of Manchester….it was still dark when I left the house, and dark when I arrived at the zoo. When you arrive you meet the other lucky individuals who have signed up for the day – although why anyone would CHOOSE to look after bats is beyond me…..

Before I could get to the capys I spent the morning looking after zebra and rhino. Being a zoo keeper means shoveling a lot of crxp, let me tell you, but there’s something strangely satisfying about the simplicity of the job. The other keepers were fascinated by why I would pay good money and take a day’s holiday to do their job – but it was refreshing to zone out, and know that animals are pretty straightforward creatures. Unlike clients or colleagues they don’t argue or debate with you, they’re happy with a clean bed and some lunch.

If something goes wrong or the animals are sick, then the professionals know their stuff, and they’re highly skilled. But for the most part, they’re cleaning up after the animals, and of course feeding them. And because it’s such a popular job, even the most menial job demands a degree…..I left the day with a new found respect for zoo keepers.

Anyway, after lunch (in the special zoo keeper’s canteen: the excitement) it was off to the capy enclosure! Because they’re in with a couple of (very large) tapirs, there was a lot of food to prepare. Apples, carrots, cabbage, and some sort of pellet things which didn’t look appetizing at all to me but hey what do I know. Apparently they contain lots of useful medicine and nutrients.

As I’d briefed by mentor zoo keeper that capys are my all time number one favourite animal, she let me spend a lot of time with them – and it didn’t disappoint. Apart from a bit of a charge at the start (tapirs get very excited when they’re hungry) everyone was very polite and took their turn eating.

As a special treat I was allowed to feed the capys sliced bread – apparently it’s not part of their usual diet and a treat only. (Caplin, do you eat bread? I’ve heard about the yoghurt and the popsicles, but don’t recall bread!) They bring it out for the guest zoo keepers as it means they can pet the capys and get really close to them.

It was an amazing experience, and as you can probably see from my photos, I was VERY excited. I could have stayed with them all day. They did show me their enormous teeth a few times but I’m assured this was just as they got the measure of me – once they saw the sliced bread they were all over me, and happy to be stroked and petted. And I can report that capys DO feel a bit like a coconut! I can’t recommend the experience enough and can’t wait to pet another capy. One day…..

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fail to Plan....

Yes, I know it's still September, but fail to plan, plan to fail as we PR people like to say. Which means that Christmas Day is booked. Which means that 15 of my dearest friends and family will all be celebrating together this festive period. Excitement doesn't even cover it. And there's still Thanksgiving to enjoy first! I do love these multi-cultural holidays where I get to eat my way through other people's houses. Yum.


I've been a bit quiet in the last few days, forgive me. I've been ill - I won't subject you to the details but let's just say: it's not easy to blog with your head down the toilet. As a result of this mayhem I've been averaging 2 hours sleep a night. NOT a treat.

I did wonder if it was Beirut-induced (and then I'll KNOW I really have lost my hardcore) but people in the office have been dropping like flies too. Nice! Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Knew !?

I can tell, via a nifty piece of kit, how many people read my blog, and it's been comforting to see that number grow from just my mum and friends. Whilst researching the digital sphere for a client and testing out a number of different analytic tools, I realised that my blog has been garnering more attention than I thought - I was quoted in Gulf News earlier this year! It's the biggest English language daily here. I'm not sure how fascinating my musings on the Easter break are, or the mention of the over-sized sunhat, but I'm loving the mention! The link is here and the quote below...

Encroaching beauty
Gulf News Deputy Web Editor Florence Pia G. Yu plunges headlong into the blogosphere to find out what bloggers from the Middle East and beyond have on their minds.

Apart from that, many people blogged about their Easter Sunday experience - mostly about their time off work. Britneyofarabia.blogspot.com wrote she had no complaints. "Despite living in a Muslim country, we, unusually, have been given Easter Sunday off. Meaning a three-day weekend - what a treat!"
The blogger wrote she "snagged a room at the gorgeous Shangri-La in Abu Dhabi. Think white beach, infinity pool, and ultimate luxury. Celebrity gossip magazines are ready, as is enormous beach hat. Bliss!"

Only in Dubai

A strange man knocked on my door late last night. Rein in your enthusiasm, it's not THAT kind of story. Apparently some smoke alarms have been going off randomly in the building and he was checking all of them. He was kind enough not to comment on my pj's or the faint smell of tan in a can as he came in. Always interested in these handyman jobs (not interested enough to actually do them myself, of course) I stayed around to see what he was actually doing.

He duly climbed up his little ladder and unscrewed the alarm. After staring intently at it for a few moments he unleashed his killer electrical skills, honed after years of training........and BLEW ON IT. Yes, that was the extent of his knowledge. I watched to see if there was anything else he had up his sleeve, but nope, that was it. He pronounced the alarm 'ok', packed up his ladder and left. I have to say, I'm not completely confident in his verdict - but who am I to argue?!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Beirut: Part 2

So, onto the fun. Or mayhem, whichever you want to call it. Beirut is full of bars and clubs and its reputation certainly precedes it. On announcing our trip in the office people were literally beating a path to my door to impart tales of where we must go, best places to eat, drink and be merry. Thanks to Salam who I think spent a good 30 minutes giving me advice - with maps/drawings and dress codes all listed out! And so much hospitality: you must meet up with my friends/brother/family and they will take you out - thanks to everyone for being so, so sweet.

One very refreshing part of Beirut, quite literally, is that you can walk around, not only are there (shock horror) pavements, but it's also a good deal cooler than Dubai right now - drops to about 22 at night. Combine this with the fact that there are whole streets full of bars (think the Northern Quarter in Manchester or Greenwich in NYC) and it all adds up to a very cool night out.

The first night we started off by hitting Gemayze street - bar after bar after bar. I mentioned the blonde thing being a bit of a novelty, yes? Ok, so no sooner are we out of the cab than it starts, flash bulbs, car horns, people stopping us to talk......hilarious. And it continues inside the bars - but it's not sleazy, even groups of girls are chatting away to us. Everyone is just super friendly, which takes a bit of getting used to when you're a cynical Brit! It's a real mixture of people, of course Lebanese, but groups from Dubai, the States, all over.

And once you're tired of a bar - well you just rock up to the next one. Things don't get going til pretty late in Beirut - much like Dubai. We didn't leave the bars for the club until 3 am. Yes, 3 am...And the club we headed to is a little different to those in Dubai - basically because you can't see it from above the ground. It's an underground bunker - a real one, left over from the war, that's been converted into a club. Call me old fashioned, but since when has it been de rigeur to have club so dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face? Maybe it's my age. The other main difference is that at about 5 am, the roof comes off, and you dance underneath the stars. Fabulous.

Anyway, thanks to the Dubai wedding gang for very kindly hosting us at their table...so, so, much fun was had. And when leaving – there’s a variety of people competing for your attention to offer you a taxi ride home. We decided on a guy called Joe – well, you have to, don’t you – and decided that by taking our photos with them we at least had evidence if he did turn out to be a murderer. Seemed logical at the time! By 6 am we were a little on the hungry side having skipped dinner for a disco nap, so we then began a tour of Beirut on the hunt for manakish. I’ve definitely mentioned these here before – we have them every Thursday morning in the office – for those non Middle East dwellers they are gorgeous flat breads filled with cheese and then anything else you like – I went for olives. A bit like the UK equivalent of heading to the chippy or the kebab house after a night out!

Even the manakish take-away became a huge social event, with the entire place stopping to check out the crazy English blondes…..and refusing to let us pay for them. Bless.

So, onto night two. After the prerequisite disco nap, we donned our finest and headed out. No Skybar or White as the world’s biggest thunderstorm chose that moment to erupt – not that it stopped us, of course. After a quick drink in the Buddha bar (enormous, 3 floors of gorgeous people partying) we headed to Monot – another street load of bars and clubs. Despite our taxi driver speaking no English or French we discovered that the international language of party will get you want to be: just say DISCO and boom! You’re at a club. Very different to the previous night, this was very much a local place, with lots of Arabic music – and even a signer and keyboard! Not speaking a word of Arabic meant we weren’t really sure of what was going on, but judging by the way the crowd went wild, we think he was singing pop songs. The ‘Heigh Ho Silver Lining’ of Beirut, if you will.

Again, we were the only blonde girls to be seen in the place which led to the inevitable attention. Thanks to the bar staff, the Beirut Richard Branson, and countless others for the free flowing drinks and seats in the VIP section. Come 3 o’clock and it’s clearly way too early to be heading home, so we left and headed to Casino.. Not an actual Casino, a club. I’ve since been told by Lebanese friends that this is a ‘Beirut Mafia’ hang-out. Whoops! It certainly explains a lot!

Time to go home and of course no night out is complete without a complete photoshoot with the local militia. Yes, we hung out with the army boys who are so kindly stationed outside local hostelries to ensure your safe return home. Suffice to say it’s a story that I think they’ll be dining out on for years. Bless them. So sweet. 22 is WAY too young to be in the army. The next day was a bit of a blur and we only managed dinner and drinks in the evening. Getting on a plane with a hangover was not high on my list of priorities.

So there you go. No wonder I’m exhausted now. Non-stop. You are of course reading a slightly sanitized version of events: what goes on in Beirut, stays in Beirut. Mum: I did behave myself, honest. Those that know me, KNOW.