Sunday, January 31, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside...

Okay, okay, I know this isn't news for UK folk, but OH MY GOD, IT'S FREEZING!!!! I did read the weather forecast for Amsterdam before I set off, but boy, I was not expecting this.

I was first alerted to the fact that something was horribly horribly wrong when I headed towards the airport exit and saw people dressed as if they were going skiing. Full on puffa jackets, trousers, and enormous moon boots. I actually snickered a little at them as I went past (ridiculous outfits, completely over the top etc etc).

How I envied their voluminous unflattering garb when the revolving door spat me out onto the the two minutes it took for a taxi to pull up alongside me my entire body had frozen. My feet are still blocks of ice. I'm typing this IN BED. Not in any sexy Sarah Jessica Parker stylish way, simply because under the duvet is the only place I can bear to be after a few hours tromping round Amsterdam city centre. Yuck!

It's hard to believe that 12 hours ago I was skipping around Downtown Dubai in flip-flops...and sizzling nicely in a bikini at the weekend.....I always knew I wasn't cut out for life in a cold country, and this has just put the tin lid on it. Sunshine, I miss you.

Things That Go Squeak in the Night...

As part of my no expense spent trip, I was delighted to discover (thanks to Trip Advisor) that no less than THREE different people have discovered a mouse in their room in my hotel. Lovely.

Now, I'm an animal lover, but if this happens to me, I think all hell will break loose. I've put my shoes and boots on a high shelf in the wardrobe and will have to try to remember to sleep with my mouth closed....eek!

Broadening the Mind

I love travel. Who doesn't? It was one of my major reasons for wanting to move to Dubai, so that I could see more of 'this side' of the world. And I've managed to get to a fair few places - not nearly as many as I'd like due to the Nazi approach to attempting to take any holiday at all by my employer, but that's another story.

I've also done a lot of travelling for work, and I'm in the throes of one such trip now. A client conference in Amsterdam..which prompted a lot of excitement in the office. I did point out that when you're British a) Amsterdam is a cheap/close/ hedonistic weekend and as such, I've been there, done that numerous times and b) I'm working. So hedonism isn't high on the agenda...

Anyway, the one thing that I've decided that I don't like about travelling is being alone. When you're delayed. Normally I like nothing more than my own company, and revel in the fact that for a few hours I'm uncontactable by work and can lose myself in a good book or three. But this weekend saw me delayed at Dubai airport until 4.30am. yes, 4.30 am. Not a treat. When you're on your own you really have to watch how much you drink (too much and you're in danger of missing your flight) and you have no-one to go and check on flight schedules etc whilst you're nursing aforesaid drink. It's a bind.

Added to that I had no one to gossip with on the plane about the hideous flight attendants on KLM - rottweilers in uniforms would have been more friendly...

Anyway, that said I'm thrilled to be here (not happy about the cold) as it means I'm getting to tag a couple of days in the UK onto the end of my trip. That's right: Manchester, I'm coming home...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oh man, Oman...

Sorry it took so long, folks. The long weekend in Oman was quickly forgotten this week in a whirl of 14 hour days at work - bah.

What can I say about Oman? It's quiet - much quieter than Dubai - which I guess is part of its charm. We stayed at the Dive Centre, which is right up near the posh Shangri-La...and much as I'm normally all over some five(or at push, six or seven)star luxury location, this place takes some beating. For about a hundred quid you get your very own beach hut, literally 15 steps from the sea. And that hundred quid included breakfast and dinner- both of which I scoffed in large quantities as it was an amazing spread and utterly delicious.

We did have one 'night out' (I'm loosely referring to it as this as it did not involve an inappropriate outfit/boy chasing/dancing - all pre-requisites for a decent night in my book) where we propped up an ex-pat British pub type place. What fascinated me most was the large amount of Omani men drinking pints in their dishdashes. (Muslims aren't supposed to drink, and in Dubai it's illegal to serve a man alcohol if he's wearing a dishdash.)

After that the next three days were spent lolling around on sun loungers, drinking wine, catching up on celebrity breakdowns and (most brilliantly) ogling a large group of 24 year old marines who were ashore for the day. It was like watching a Men's health cover-shoot crossed with a porn film. I'm not ashamed to say I still have a crick in my neck from straining to watch them as they played beach volleyball....frisbee...went diving off a jetty with their shorts pulled down (no, really). Call me shallow, but it was a treat of an afternoon and I'm still giggling about it now.

The Dive Centre does exactly what it says on the tin - it's a big draw for divers - which meant we (almost) felt a bit guilty each morning when ambling along for breakfast at 9.30 as the ealy divers were on their way back in from amornng at sea. Note: you're supposed to be on holiday, folks! Still, it takes all sorts.

So, a trip to Oman - it will re-charge your batteries but don't expect to get your dancing shoes on. Just what the doctor ordered...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oman Bound

The last week has been quite a shocker, as I'm sure you've realised. It hasn't helped that work has been utterly manic (too many clients, too much new business, not enough time - the usual agency problem) so I've ended each day feeling like I've been in a washing machine. So it is with a spring in my step and a song in my heart that I'm heading off to Oman for a long weekend today. The lovely Vikki has lived there for a year and shamefully I've never made it over to see her. To be fair, Oman isn't exactly happening, and Vikki has always been like a rat up a drainpipe where Dubai is concerned.

We're staying here (see, I can do rustic!)which is pretty handy as a) it's right next to the gorgeous Shangri-la, and b) I've been informed that a large boatful or marines is moored nearby. Apparently the boys like nothing more after a hard day's work (doing....what do marines do??) than stripping to the waist and heading to our very beach for a game of volleyball. I can think of worse ways to recuperate from a near-death experience than sipping wine on a sun-lounger and watching that view. Full report to follow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crash, Bang, Wallop

There's no amusing preamble to this anecdote I'm afraid readers. Two days ago I was involved in a horrific car crash and I'm very lucky to be alive.

Living in Dubai, I've been well aware of the dangers of driving here. I've lost count of the amount of wrecks that I've seen at the side of the road, and thought: there but for the grace of god go I. And on Tuesday, it was only by the grace of something that I am still alive.

My head is still all over the place and as I write this I'm bandaged, bruised, and covered in scratches, so forgive me if it isn't the most lucid account. But I need to write it down, if only to stop it whirring around in front of my eyes for a few minutes.

Let's start in the car. A typical journey back from Abu Dhabi. A colleague is driving. I'm in the passenger seat. Three colleagues are in the back - it's a large SUV. No-one in the back is wearing a seatbelt (Why bother?? No-one else in the Middle east does....and it's not law to wear one.)

We're weaving in and out of lanes, as is the style of driving here. Mainly in the fast lane. We're doing about 130-140 km an hour. Hard to tell as I can't see the speedometer but I know we're going faster than 120 (the speed limit) as cars here have a built-in system where the car beeps loudly when you hit the speed limit. And the car has been beeping merrily for most of the journey.

We're in the fast lane. The driver reaches for their Blackberry and starts to scroll through it. Something that I'm very uncomfortable with and which has earned me the nickname of 'Granny Driver' as I always tell people off for doing it. On this occasion I say nothing. The driver continues to glance down at their BB, and glance up at the road intermittently. We're in the fast lane, folks. Doing 140 k an hour.

The road bends to the right. The driver is still looking at the BB. We're veering towards the central reservation. We call out to her to straighten the car up. She looks up, tries to straighten the car...and then it's utter mayhem.

The car rocks from side to side, violently. We're swerving. We hit the central reservation, hard. The car rolls, twice. My laptop hits me in the face as it flies out of the passenger window. The same with my handbag. I brace myself on the dashboard as if we're in a crashing plane. The crashing, grinding noise eventually fades away as we skid to a halt. Glass, dust, tarmac are in my face, eyes, ears, hair. We've stopped. We're at the side of a six lane highway.

"Are we all ok?" we shriek. We're all ok. But we have to get out of the car. It's lying on its side. I try to climb out of the window but the world is upside down and I'm shaking so violently I can barely stand, let alone haul myself through a shoulder-height window that's covered in shards of glass.

There's hundreds (and I mean, literally, hundreds) of people who have stopped to help us. Looking back on this now, I well up. They risked their lives to help us. Some don't speak English, but still they try to help us. My overwhelming thought (possibly brought on by one too many Hollywood movies) is that the car might explode. I suppress the panic which is building inside me. The only routes out are through the front or rear windows. A huge group of people kick in the back window. I unhook the driver from her seat-belt and help her to stand. We take the hands of strangers who half guide/half carry us to safety.

It's only then that I realise that I have no shoes on. The force of the crash and the rolling car tore them from my feet. Which isn't ideal when you're standing in a sea of broken glass. And I'm bleeding, a lot, from my arm. It's badly grazed from where I'd braced myself and then been dragged along the road. My hands are covered in blood and badly scratched. I'm missing most of my fingernails on my right hand, again, from where I'd braced against the window frame.

We instinctively huddle together as a group and hug. We're alive and it's a miracle. One man brings me tissues to wipe the tears, blood and dust from my face and arms. Bizarrely all of our bags are lined up next to the car - people have been retrieving our belongings from the road as we scrambled to safety.

The police and ambulance are on the scene in minutes - amazing. It's a bit of a blur from this point onwards as it's a whirl of people checking us over, police asking questions. I call the office and tell them not to expect us back that day. After about an hour, we're done, and the police take us to the nearest mall where we take a taxi home. We're all still shell-shocked and don't speak much.

There were some moments of real hilarity - black humour - during the ordeal. When the ambulance man asked my age and I told him, I was encouraged when he responded with a surprised "really?". I also loved the moment when I realised that the force of the impact had ripped my shirt open to the naval. This was a good half hour after the accident, and my partly explain why so many young men were trying to help me..

The next day I was determined to make it into work but a night of zero sleep rendered me useless and I stayed at home. My body also felt, and still does, like I'd been run over by a truck. Which I suppose, in a way, it has.

I came back into work today, starting with a client meeting. I hadn't expected to feel so emotional but when I reached into my handbag for business cards and pulled out a handful of glass, it all came flooding back to me and I was a bit overwhelmed. Every time anyone is nice to me I wobble a little, but I'm glad I came into work. Re-living the accident over and over and over on the sofa was wearing a little thin.

So that's it. One giant trauma over. My life didn't flash before me, I didn't have any regrets. Which I think is a good indication of a person content with their lot and happy with how their life is going. My lovely friends near and far rallied round at high-speed with love, support, wine and ice-cream. I'm alive, and I'm very grateful for that. If you spot a blonde spending vast amounts of dirhams in Dubai Mall this weekend, it might just be me. Well you can't take it with you....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finally, the World's Tallest Building Opens

The Burj opening has been reported to death – and not much of it positively in the international press, so I won’t go into too many details….what I will say is I WAS THERE! And RIGHT AT THE FRONT!

A bit of research and we discovered that the island where the opening ceremony was taking place was open to the public – when it was full, it was full. So somehow my gang managed to make it right to the front of the action – parachutists landing right next to us, Sheikh Mo sat to our left, fountains/fireworks, the Burj itself, all spitting distance.

One amazing night. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe it. You’ve probably already gathered that I love living here, but that night I also felt proud to be here. Dubai haters, if you’d have been here, maybe, just maybe, you’d understand.

NYE Mayhem

Take four girls, add lots of fizz, friends, throw in some New Year’s excitement, and then let them all loose on the dancefloor on New Year’s Eve….the result is an NYE that goes down in history as the most hilarious ever….

After last year’s damp squib (NYE was ‘cancelled’ – don’t ask, and I had to work, in Abu Dhabi, the next day), I had vowed to really let my hair down this year. Cue the arrival of two UK friends, who flew in very shortly after the family had left. I’d forgotten how much fun it was co-habiting with girls – sorry boys, no pillow fights or naked wrestling, but lots of make-up bag sharing and clothes discussions. Safe to say we had many many wine fuelled ‘boys/fashion/make-up’ discussions.

And the pinnacle of all of this was NYE. I was feeling the pressure of having guests to entertain, and was torn between a local bar (cute venue, know the staff, always get looked after) or a giant club (huge dancefloor, always have a brilliant time, and have 100% hit rate). Both had their merits. A quick chat with the girls revealed that our main priority for the evening: dancing. So the club won hands down.

I can’t share too many details with you (what happens on NYE, stays on NYE) but suffice to say I am still laughing about it now. I actually burst out laughing on the cross-trainer in the gym yesterday. The gift that keeps on giving…

A Great Start to the Week

Sundays are never going to fill my heart with joy (Sunday is our Monday folks!) as they mean it's back to the long daily grind in the office. So it was an absolute treat to come into work to an email from our lovely safari guide in the Masai Mara, Anderson.

I'm not quite sure how he has an email address - there was one computer in the camp, so maybe he hi-jacked that. It was a simple email hoping that we were ok and telling us how touched he was that we emailed the camp (we got in touch as soon as we returned to Dubai to say thank-you for such an awesome trip and how much Anderson had made our holiday).

It was a reminder (not that I really need one) that holidays are crucially important, not only to my physical and mental well-being, but also as a reinforcement of why I moved to Dubai - to be able to travel and explore 'this side' of the world. Next stop: a weekend in Cairo and a trip to Hong Kong and Tokyo. If anyone has any hotel recommendations, please do share...

Anyway, this morning's email took me right back to the Masai Mara and a very happy time. Thanks, Anderson.

All Quiet on The Dubai Front....

I know, I know, I haven't blogged for about a week, sorry! Work has been stupidly busy, and my usual weekend blogging time was eaten up by pool/gym/wine/more work.

Anyway there's plenty to discuss at the start of this week - I'll start with the tale of the UK couple in Dubai who are getting charged with having sex outside of marriage and drinking alcohol.

Yes, both of these things are illegal here, but this couple were ON HOLIDAY, staying in a nice hotel (The Address Marina, where I enjoyed a lovely drinks night just before Christmas). Oh, and the reason why the police were alerted to their non-married/booze consuming status? The woman had been raped in the hotel and was at the police station to report that crime.

This has sparked a flurry of debate amongst online forums here - the holier than thou brigade saddling up their high horses. "They should have done their research' shout members. "You must respect the laws of the country that you're in" they exclaim self-righteously.

Come on people. Dubai markets itself very clearly as a tourist destination. In no brochure does it say: if you're unmarried and on holiday, beware. In fact one daily newspaper here did a little research of their own, calling up 10 prominent Dubai hotels, explaining that they'd like to book a room for an unmarried couple. Only one hotel, in Sharjah (a neighbouring Emirate where laws are much stricter) said no. All of the others unequivocally said yes. Of course they did.

Somewhere in all of the hoo-ha about this the fact that the girl claims to have been raped has also passed by. If this is true, this poor girl has been through something utterly hideous, on top of which she has then being charged with an offence, which quite frankly is at odds with the way that Dubai markets itself.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If they are really going to charge this couple then it could have a serious effect on Dubai's image as a tourist destination. Let's see..

Monday, January 04, 2010

Give it a Rest!

The Burj Dubai opens later today, and with it comes the inevitable Dubai bashing from the UK media. Give it a rest will you! i don't know why I expect t he daily mail to report anything other than a load of garbage but my heart still fell when I read this.

Then there was this in The Times.

I've been lucky enough to live and work next to the beast for almost the last two years - and I've posted before about what an amazing spectacle it is. I'm in a frenzy of excitement about the opening and will be heading down there with friends later. Full report to follow. In the meantime: don't believe anything that you read about this building. It's magnificent. And was built in under 6 years. You couldn't get a conservator on the back of a semi-detached in the UK in that time!