Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Well Hello, Giorgio

Another new hotel opened in Dubai last night.  But not just any hotel...the new Armani Hotel in the wonderful Burj Khalifa (world's tallest building, if you've been living under a rock for the last few years..).  It was supposed to open last week but the ash cloud delayed things a little.

Despite our best efforts we couldn't secure an invite to the super-exclusive event.  Word on the street from those who were lucky enough to make it to the party is that Naomi was there....further celeb sightings to be confirmed.  My good friend A has been inside for a sneak preview, and testifies that it is just as gorgeous as you would expect.  We're having an agency party there in May, but I don't think I'll be able to wait that long to get inside for a look!

The fact that it's literally a six minute walk from my office and staggering distance home to my apartment also makes it a tip-top location all round.  It's as exclusive as you would expect from a hotel in uch an iconic building, so much so that in order to even gain access to the hotel for a drink, you have to have a reservation.  They do the same at the Burj Al Arab (too many tourists going in for a gander and causing a kerfuffle) but this is no hinderance.  We'll book.  We'll go.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Divine Damascus

It’s hard to know where to start with the Damascus update. Firstly – 2 days is just not enough time – but what’s a girl to do when getting time off work is harder than taking off in a volcanic ash-cloud?

We were travelling with Fly Dubai (a new budget airline) which leaves from Terminal Two. For those that know Dubai airport, Terminal Two is the absolute worst of them all (at least Terminal One has a bar!) and as we were delayed for 90 minutes it was a pretty dull start to the trip. Thank goodness for celebrity magazines and gin poured into 7 Up cans (classy girls).

It’s only a short flight so 3 hours later we arrived in Damascus. The journey had already provided quite eventful as we made friends with a lovely young man who had the good fortune (or misfortune depending on which way you look at it) to be sat next to us. We talked his ear off for 3 hours, but he must have liked it as he came out with us on Friday night…more of that later.

Damascus airport makes Jersey’s look like JFK – it’s tiny, and in the middle of nowhere. After wrestling our carry on off the plane we proceeded to get mobbed by extremely dodgy looking taxi drivers, and eventually agreed a rate with the one that we decided looked least like a rapist. 30 minutes later and we were at the hotel. By this time it was midnight and we were pretty exhausted, but thankfully there was a bar in the basement of the hotel so we trundled down for a nightcap – it would be rude not to.

Hilariously the bar was an English styled pub (imaginatively named: ‘The Pub’) complete with red phone box, Ye Olde baked potato oven and (not English but hey) a sushi chef at the door. As the only Western blonde women in the place we did cause quite a stir, and we polished off a bottle of white wine before bed. Also hilariously (laughter was a main component of the weekend) the best deal that we could find on Expedia was a ‘romance package’. This meant there was fresh fruit and sparkling wine waiting for us, breakfast in bed each day, and a late check out. No surprise that the check-in boy had a smile on his face as he checked three girls into the same room…..

Friday we set off at a reasonable time (after scoffing aforementioned very large breakfast) and headed into Old Damascus to explore. What to say about it? It’s extremely old, very beautiful, winding streets and lots of very traditional souks. We stood out like sore thumbs and we soon discovered that the local menfolk were utterly transfixed by us (Syrian husband anyone?). We did draw the line at the pack who videoed us as we walked along…such is life as a travelling celebrity!

We were armed with a whole host of tips from our Syrian friends (bless) so roamed around until hunger and the urge for vino overtook us. To be honest, it wasn’t long. We headed to what we were told was THE best restaurant in Damascus (Naranj) which lived up to its reputation. We reckoned it was pretty good by the number of dignitaries/Syrian Mafioso sat inside, WITH their security guards. We hot-footed it upstairs to the lovely terrace and spent a very productive few hours sampling the local food, wine and enjoying the cool breeze. Bliss.

Back to the hotel for a disco nap before squeezing into an inappropriate outfit and heading to a bar for drinks with the boy from the plane and a friend of a friend. One drink led to twenty and next thing it was 5 am and we were still dancing in a nearby club. A hilarious night was had by all.

Spirits were a little subdued the next day (top hangover tip: clamp sunglasses to face as soon as you wake up, even when lying in bed), but we still made it back into the Old Town for a bit more exploring.

So: Damascus – definitely worth a trip. And it’s worthy of much more than the two days that we spent there. Amazing, friendly people, ridiculous amounts of history, and a generally laid-back vibe. Next stop: Kerala in May….

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Can Make You....Zzzzzzz

I can’t tell you how amazing I feel today. Full of energy. Re-vitalised. A real spring in my step. Have I won the lottery? Found a way to never work again whilst still taking home a top salary and still having intellectual stimulation? Sadly, no. The answer is simple. I had a good night’s sleep. 
Until I actually had a good night's sleep I hadn't realised how horrific life was without it.  It's a bit like living with pain.  A few years ago I slipped a disc in my back and it took me a week or so to get to the physio.  It was only when she magically tweaked and accupunctured my back, removing all the pain, that I realised how debilitating it is to live with constant pain like that.  And that's how it is with sleep.  I've been averaging about 4 hours a night for as long as I can remember.

So how did I do it?  Paul McKenna.  The lovely V brought me his"I Can Make You Sleep" book at the weekend, with accompanying CD. which I duly loaded onto my i-pod.  The first time I listened to it I did have a little snigger (it is reminiscent of the hypnotist from Little Britain: Look into my eyes, look into my eyes) but any laughter was short-lived, as after no more than eight minutes each time I've been sent off to the land of nod.

The irony is that she actually brought the wrong cd, but somehow listening to his extremely soothing voice has worked anyway.  The cd that she's given me is "I Can MakeYour Life Amazing" so hopefully this will have some additional benefits too!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cafe Culture

The thing about Dubai is that new places are always popping up where you least expect them. Or disappearing, if you’re examining the roads, u-turns and roundabouts in Down Town. Anyway. A welcome addition to the huge range of Down Town eateries is the new Boulevard CafĂ© at the Al Manzil Hotel.

The hotel is already great, with a gorgeous Arabic courtyard (watch the mosquitoes!) and a sports bar which we have been known to while away many hours in…this being Dubai, that wasn’t enough though, and in December last year they started building onto the side of it. And this being Dubai they finished the whole thing just three months.

We checked it out for a late breakfast this weekend, and I’m happy to report that it’s divine. Laid back French menu (crepes, salads, brilliant breakfasts), good staff, nice atmosphere. With a view of the world going by from the window, and of course, the world’s tallest building.

Being slightly (ahem) worn-out after the previous day’s polo antics we both went for the full breakfast: sausages, bacon, mushrooms, beans, poached eggs, muffin, toast, jam fruit…..did I mention we were starving?! All delicious, and reasonably priced too. We will be back.

Girl's World

I’m a big believer in random acts of kindness and what you think about you bring about. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that I skip about the streets grinning inanely at people like a window-licker, more that I try to treat people how I’d like to be treated. Nicely.

So when I saw a plea on an online forum from a woman who desperately needed a babysitter, I decided to take the bull by the horns and do something nice. And how well it turned out. The woman in question literally lives a 4 minute walk from my front door, and is a top, top girl. One of us and would be a great addition to the team.

Her little girl is a complete dream (little girls rock) and after a mini introduction over wine (my kind of woman) I spent an evening with her daughter last Thursday. Those who know me know that the urge to reproduce has in no way made its way into my psyche, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have an extremely entertaining evening.

After watching a Christmas movie which featured talking dogs (always a winner) we moved onto plasticine modelling (I had to make things on demand, including: a mouse, a sofa, a flip flop and a house) and possibly my least favourite part: I was a hairdresser’s model. Bizarrely this took me right back to being a small child myself as this was one of my favourite games to play with my grandma when she baby sat me. Along with liberal application of make up – poor woman. She used to leave our house looking like an extra from an episode of Dynasty.

It was all worth it when at the end, Molly turned to me and said: “You’ve got such beautiful eyes. And you’re so pretty.” At this point I was crazed with tiredness and looked far from either beautiful, or pretty, but it was very sweet of her to say so. Next time we may leave the house, if only so that I can escape the hair brushes and accessories!

Fabulous Friday

I may have mentioned our trip to the polo last month…..well it was so good that we decided to go again this weekend. The lovely Vikki was over from Oman, and as it will soon be far too hot to sit outside and watch anything we thought we’d make the most of the dying days of winter. And hot it was…….a cool 39 degrees in the shade……

Last time we went it was the Polo Gold Cup – a ‘proper’ competition with great players and teams. This week it was a charity match so a bit more laid back, so much so that we actually managed to get backstage (or should that be backstable??) and up close and personal with the polo ponies! Regular blog readers will remember that my Christmas present to my dad was a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the club, and this reminded me a bit of that.

Because the ponies get changed so often during a game, there’s a constant group of the on the sidelines, just waiting for their chance to gallop onto the field. Somehow whilst stomping the divvets we realized that we could clamber up a grass bank (pure class) and voila: let the pony bothering begin!

They’re stunning creatures (yours for just $20k each, folks) and waited placidly and patiently for their turn. We had a good chat with as many as we could get close to, gave them as much of a stroke as they would let us, and beat a retreat when we thought we’d breathed enough wine fumes onto them. Did I imagine it or were there audible sighs of equine relief when we staggered back to our table?

We watched the sunset through the sandstorm which descended out of nowhere (but gave much welcome relief from the heat) ordered another bottle of wine, and set the world to rights into the early evening. Another perfect Friday!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Worm

We’ve started a Book Club at work. Not a traditional one where everyone reads the same book and discusses it, but a get together once a month where we all sit and share a book which we’ve just read. As a voracious reader (at least a book a week quite often two) borne partly out of insomnia, I’m always keen to hear about anything interesting that I can get my hands on. We keep all the books in my office after our chats so people can dip in and out of them.

It’s absolutely fascinating (and quite enlightening) hearing what people have been reading. Today just some of the books discussed were: Shantaram, Petite Anglaise (mine) and the Kite Runner.

I was suitably impressed when one of my lovely team explained at length the book on time management that she was reading. And she really was, she’s a very diligent young lady. Perhaps I should consider my usual favourite style of book (bonk-buster) if I want to continue to share novels with my team...

Where it All Happens....

Nipped into my local spa/nail bar over the weekend. It’s one small luxury that I’ll struggle to give up when I leave Dubai – a mani/pedi for the bargain price of about 16 quid. I’d never have indulged in such a treat back home as they would have cost me at least double that.

Anyway as I’ve been going there for the last two years, it’s always a fun session. The girls are super friendly – they’ve heard about break-ups, bereavement, and even examined my injuries after the car crash.

This weekend was no exception, but there were a few differences. The usual greeting of “Hi Ma’am” was accompanied by “Ma’am, you look nice today” (I usually stagger through the door after a 12 hour working day: looking nice isn’t really a compliment you can pay me by that stage. As it was the weekend I’d had a chance to at least apply a full face of make-up.)

After a bit of giggling and chatting in Filipino, the girls felt brave enough to ask me a question: “Ma’am, have you got a date?” Cue much more giggling. This stopped just as soon as I responded with a “no”.

We then had an amusing exchange where I was grilled about why I don’t have a husband (this isn’t the first time and I’ve heard them do it to many, many customers before). It’s not surprising really - at my ripe old age I’d probably be cast out of the community in the Philippines for not having a husband or children, and many of the girls are working to support just that set-up back home.

Finally after debating the subject in broken English I decided on one phrase which summed the situation up: “The problem with husbands” I declared, “Is that they are extremely expensive.”

Despite the differing grasps on the English language this was met with much agreement from everyone in the salon. Including the (married) woman sat in the chair next to me. After that we sat in an amiable silence for the rest of the session.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Moving On...

I’m apartment hunting at the moment. There’s a new development which has just opened up nearby in Downtown and it’s gorgeous. Not too dissimilar to my place in terms of finish and size, but AMAZING views over Jumeirah and out to sea. Seriously amazing. When I visited a friend who has just moved in there I spent an inordinate amount of time with my head pressed up against the lounge window. There’s something about looking out over a vibrant city which gets to me, in a good way.

It’s also only 3 towers + 2 pools + 2 gyms, whereas my current place is 6 towers + 2 pools + 2 gyms. You do the math – it’s impossible to get a sunlounger at mine any later than 9 am at the weekends – there’s just too many people for the pools. Get me, sounding all Dubai!

It’s amazing how you get used to apartments being of a certain standard here. Live without two bathrooms? Live without an en-suite? Live without a pool that gets the sun all day? Live without a gym downstairs? Live without a large balcony? Are you joking?!

I know that at some point I will have to leave Dubai and deal with more modest accommodation. But until then, I’m going to enjoy my extremely blessed living arrangements. God knows I work hard enough to deserve some home comforts - however glamorous they may seem to outsiders!

I will, of course, keep you posted.


FYI: Contents not hot
Sorry to grab your attention with such an inflammatory headline (pun intended). There hasn’t been a fire, nothing is ablaze. We just had a fire drill in the office. No biggie, they happen in most places…..but this being Dubai the words ‘piss-up’ and ‘brewery’ sprung straight to mind.

Here’s a few tips the ‘authorities’ who organized said fire drill might want to consider:

1) It’s 40 degrees outside, with no breeze. Do we really HAVE to do this in that sort of heat?
2) The evacuation assembly point should surely be further away from the building than 1 metre. If the building was actually on fire, we would all be toast by now.
3) Perhaps appoint someone in our office to check on whether we are really all out of the building. Surely the raison d’etre of a fire drill, non?
4) Please advise the entire population of Emaar Square that they should not spark up a fag as soon as they leave the office.
5) When re-entering the building, allow people to use the stairs. 5000 people + 4 elevators = complete chaos.

A final point: where were the firemen? It’s the part of a fire drill that a girl looks forward to the most!

So Dubai....

Went to one of Dubai's newest bars last night- Caramel.  It's a gorgeous place in DIFC, and the only Caramel outside of Las Vegas.  So far, so good.

The problems began when we walked in.  The greeter on the door asked us "do you have a reservation?"  The answer was no - since when do you need a reservation for a quick post-work drink?

Well, this being Dubai, you tend to need a reservation.  And I understand the principle of this.  If I'm going to a busy place I want to be sure to get a table.  Call me old-fashioned (or just old) but I like a comfy seat on which to sip my sauvignon blanc.  But when we arrived at 7 pm, the place was empty. 

"If you don't have a reservation, you can't have a seat madam" we were told.  We reasoned that the bar was empty, and were told that "all the tables are reserved."

"From what time?" was my next question - if they were booked from 9 or even 8, no problem, we wouldn't be long.  It was a school night, after all.

"They are all booked from 7.30 madam" was the response.  We were offered a couple of small uncomfortable looking seats right in the middle of a walkway.  We took them. 

My next question was: if, at 7.30, these tables aren't all full, I expect to be moved to one of them.  It seemed only fair.  After all, they wouldn't be lying to us about the tables being reserved, would they?

But of course they were!  We watched and watched, 7.30 pm came and went, as did 8, as did 8.30.  Still the tables remained empty.  We left very shortly afterwards, after asking the staff to remove the service charge which they'd rudely (and illegally) whacked onto the already hefty bill (a glass of sauvignon blanc: 13 quid.)

This sums up perfectly everything that is wrong with Dubai: too much attitude and an expectation that you should be grateful to even set foot inside an establishment.  Caramel: wake up.  You're a brand new bar, and word spreads quickly in Dubai.  Yes, you're very pretty, but so are many many bars in Dubai.  we won't be back.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To...

I've been updating the ipod these last few weeks.  I really don't know why I left it so long.  The thought of going to the gym without music is about as appealing as getting into a Dubai taxi without a seatbelt, and I've been getting bored of my music of late.

I often joke that if I was ever to get hit by a bus whilst wearing said ipod, I'd be panicked about people discovering my dodgy taste in music - it's extremely ecletic to say the least.  In order of favourites we have: hip-hop, house music, soul, and pop.  I'll happily lurch from the Beastie Boys to J-Lo to the Supremes an d back again.

And here's the thing I realised as I was merrily downloading tunes onto the pod.  Hardly any of it is new.  It's usually pretty old.  And I don't mean old enough to be 'classic' like Motown or Elvis.  I mean 16 years old.

The large proportion of my downloads this evening have been old house from 1994...Cream anthems, club classic from my mis-spent youth.

My current favourites:

Ten City - That's the Way Love is
Clivilles and Cole - A Deeper Love
Pizzaman - Sex on The Streets
Shiva - Work It Out

I'm sure a psychologist would have a field day with this - something to do with regression to the comfort of my past.  Which, I concede, is partly true. This is music that I was living and breathing and dancing to in Sheffield when I was at university - away from home at the age of 18 for the first time and having the time of my life.  All the while adjusting to being far away from home, embracing the freedom that gave me, whilst also testing myself and the boundaries of what I could get away with.

But all that aside, the music was just WAY better back then!! Don't deny it kids.  Fellow Sheffield/Manchster clubbing posse, are you with me?

I Fought the Law and....

I went to an interesting ‘Law of Attraction’ event with a friend last night. I’m a big believer in the whole concept, but I have to say, actually going to an event like this isn’t really my cup of tea. Give me a book on the subject that I can leaf through on the sofa/sun-lounger with wine, and I’m happier. Still, I went along with an open mind, and it was good just to catch up with my good friend on the journey there (on the METRO!!! Super exciting!!)

The event itself was disappointing, quite aside from there being too many ‘happy clappers’ there for my liking, the woman doing the talking was very confusing, kept contradicting herself, and over-using the word ‘awesome’. I think I counted 20 of them in a half hour speech. No need.

Anyway, we scuttled off for food and vino at half-time, cunningly avoiding the ‘networking’ session where everyone was supposed to ‘share’ their experiences. If the questions from the first half were anything to go by this would have been an interesting session – not. One woman asked the same question no less than three times. The urge to shout out ‘listen and understand, are you deaf!!??’ was strong.

The homeward trip (again, via Metro) was scuppered when we got to the station only to be told that it had stopped running. The last train leaves the MOE station at 10.22 pm. 10.22 pm??? I wasn’t planning on staying out too late on a school night (it was about 10.35 when we made it there) but come on Dubai. Do you really expect people to take a system seriously when it stops running at search an early hour? And especially in a country where families don’t even leave the house to go to the mall until 10 pm?!

Instead we queued for twenty minutes for the obligatory ‘drive like a maniac who has never heard of a speed limit’ taxi journey home. Dubai Metro, please extend your opening times!

Happy Easter!

Amazingly in a Muslim country, we’re getting Easter Sunday off. Yay! Three day weekend beckons. My three days will be mainly spent doing the following:
• Beach club
• Dancing to DJ Yoda and Trevor Nelson
• Hairdresser (friends may know that this could be interesting given the fact that the last time I saw said hairdresser we were dancing inappropriately in a local bar til 2 am and not in the best of shape)
• Beach bar and dancing to old soul courtesy of Schooly and Trevor Nelson
• Pool
• Gym
• Pool
• Collect Syrian visa

All washed down with lashings of wine, good food and great company. Hurrah! And Happy Easter….


Went to apply for my Syrian visa this morning. As ever with these places, just finding the embassy is a challenge in itself. It doesn’t have a decent website, so you have to rely on Google and ExpatWoman to lead you there. Amazingly, our botched directions managed to get us there, in just a twenty minute journey from downtown. We were actually early, so queued up outside (in the 27 degree heat, nice) and waited patiently for it to open.
In true Dubai fashion we got talking to a lovely Syrian girl in the queue next to us, who gave us all sorts of travel tips whilst we waited.

In we went when the door opened, queued up, took a ticket (in manner of a UK butcher’s!) and waited for our turn. We were second! And, as we were the only western women in the building, we definitely experienced service with a smile. We were even given a variety of Syrian tourist brochures to take away with us.

The smiling young man who served us was very interested in whether or not we had friends in Syria. He also has our phone numbers…hmmm!

Hate being without my passport. Will be glad to get it back on Sunday.