Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Table

Heady excitement today, a brand spanking new restaurant is opening...IN MY BUILDING!  The last apartment had a plethora of shops within the complex: Spinney's, Caribou Coffeee, Krispy Kreme Donuts (lethal), a hairdressers and spa, and a bank.  All v useful.  The new place promises all of these treats, with empty retail units below, but after six months, there'd been no sign of life: until now.  In true Dubai style it's taken little over a month for a completely empty shell of a space to be transformed into a fully functioning restaurant.  Having been a little starved (excuse the pun) of such treats, we've all been watching its progress with much anticipation.

Arz Lebanon, is, according to my Leb chums, a fabulous restaurant.  As a huge fan of fatoush, shish taouk and hoummous, I'm extremely excited that this is but a short elevator ride from my front door.  I'm also sure that they'll deliver - which may sound extremely lazy, but when it's 50 degrees outside and you're struggling with a huge hangover, this is a good option to have on speed dial.

This morning the final touches were being added, a vast spread of beautiful outdoor furniture, and enough foliage and flowers to fill a small garden centre.  As I trotted past on my way to work it struck me that in Manchester, this would have been stolen, torched, or defecated on in the time it takes to say "don't you think we should put all this furntiure inside until we open?".  God bless Dubai.

The Lofts residents are now eagerly awaiting the actual opening, with the promise of many happy evenings sat outside watching the boulevard traffic roar by, with the world's tallest building as a backdrop.  If only they had a licence!   

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dubai, Get a Grip!

I've never been one of those people that moans about New Year's Eve.  You know the gripes: it's overpriced, it's just one night, there's too much pressure to have a good time.  For as long as I can remember (apart from one blip when I first arrived here and had to work), I've grabbed NYE by the scruff of the neck, donned my dancing shoes, and welcomed in the next year with complete and absolute gusto.  This was massively helped by the fact that when I lived in Manchester my lovely apartment was slap-bang in the middle of the city, meaning no taxis, easy access to bars and clubs, and pre and post carnage drinks and party chez mine.

But this year,  I confess, I have had a moan.  Mainly because one of our favourite clubs has seen fit to up its entry charge to a whopping 200 quid.  Yes, you read that correctly.  And they're not the only ones.  Yesterday the entire office spent a good hour trying to find a decent venue for a work colleague to take her parents to on NYE.  Unless you're prepared to shell out an average of two hundred quid, per person, you're out of luck.  This is absolutely Dubai at its craziest, perpetuating every myth and misconception about the city going.  The biggest bill?  Dinner at the Burj Al Arab.  At almost 1500 quid a pop, it's the most ridiculous of them all.

We're yet to decide on our venue.  Ultimately my main ingredients for a great NYE  are: great music, free-flowing G&T's, but most importantly, a gang who you love, who will be the first on the dancefloor and the last to leave it.  Thankfully, that last part is sorted!

Things We Do For Love...

I never did tell you how Jordan went, did I?  In the melee of Christmas preparations, I just didn't have the time.  It's been on my mind to blog about it, not just because I should, but also because on my return I've been gripped by this book.  It's about a woman whose trip to Petra in the 70's resulted in her meeting and marrying a bedouin man, and living in a cave (no, really) for the next 25 years.  It was made all the more relevant by the fact that I was standing not 50 metres from her very cave whilst I was in Petra a month ago.

So, Jordan.  We flew into Amman, which reminded me a bit of a scruffy Beirut.  There's not a huge amount to note about it but there are some amazing Roman ruins which we investigated, and a citadel high on a hill which gives you a great view.  Amman is built on seven hills,like Rome (and also Sheffield, fact fans!).  Another fact about Jordan in November: it's FREEZING at night.  I mean almost zero, howling wind, I wish I'd brought a coat type temperature.  Thankfully one lovely outdoor restaurant we visited came rushing over with enormous blankets for us to wrap ourselves in, otherwise hypothermia could have been our new friend!

Then it was time to head to Petra, via a myriad of churches and crusader castles (castle was ace).  We eschewed the staid and anodyne hotel chains to stay here, which was so the right decision.  A deserted village converted into a boutique hotel, each room is a mini cave, complete with tiny windows and rooms that looked like bears lived in them. Amazing.  But I don't want to use up all my superlatives before I get to Petra itself, which really has to be seen to be believed.

You probably know a bit about it, and have seen its most famous facade, the treasury, in multiple magazines, tv programmes, or Raiders of the Lost Ark...but actually being there is a truly wonderful experience.  It takes a long time to get into the lost city itself, winding through a narrow siq (a crack in the rocks with high cliffs on either side) which makes the first view of the Treasury even more spectacular.  It takes a couple of hours to walk all the way through Petra, which is a bit like walking through a history book.  Lots of beautiful tombs and scenery, overlaid with  the hustle and bustle of tourists, horses, donkeys, camels, and souvenir sellers.  It's only since reading Married to a Bedouin that I realise that people actually used to live in those very caves and make a living from selling bits of tat to people. 

An utterly fascinating place, with much food for thought, especially after reading the book.  Questions such as could I live without: a hairdryer (possibly), running water and a flushing toilet (no), friends and family (no) and just what would you do for love?  Answers on a postcard please...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Survived!

Yes, a week with the family and I have lived to tell the tale!  I'm only joking, of course.  I'm blessed to get on extremely well with my parents, and my grandma (aka Joan Collins) is a legend in her own lifetime and a joy to spend time with.  After the will they/won't they make it drama, we settled into the (extensive, of course) itinerary which I had lovingly prepared.  Truth be told this was a rather more rushed affair than usual due to ridic work situation in the run-up, but anyway.  The whole week was an absolute pleasure, and here are some of my highlights:

Private Abra Ride on the Creek
Yes, you can jump an abra (water taxi) across the creek for the equivalent of about 50p, and it's a wonderful experience.  But a) it's all over too soon amd b) you have to cram your way onto the abra with the hoi polloi.  All of this is negated by simply coughing up twenty quid (a bargain by Dubai standards) and then you get the boat all to yourself, for 90 minutes.  Fabulous!  As with so many cities, it's wonderful to see the place from the water, especially as the creek is really the heart of the city.  Lots of 'traffic' large and small, including other abras, the newer and bigger water taxis, andthe occasional giant barge.  Despite all of this there's very little swell and you chug along quite serenely.  Well as serenely as you can be when there's a diesel engine roaring away next to you, but it's still wonderful.

Desert Ranch
I'm lucky enough to have unearthed a friend of a friend who is not only a horse whisperer (no, really) but who is also managing this fabulous place out in the desert. Don't be fooled by the link, in typical Dubai style the website hasn't been updated for some time.  For those that have lived here for a while, it's the site of the Jumana desert show.  Long story short - this was cancelled, and the animals who took part were left there for TWO YEARS to rot.  Thankfully people stepped in and they're now restoring the ranch as a place for horse-riding and general visits.  It's an amazing place, completely silent and tranquil, with tame camels, goats, donkeys (all of whom had starring roles in the production, bless!).  And of course, there were some of the most gorgeous horses I've ever seen.  A million thanks to Mark who showed us the most amazing hospitality for the morning. 

My dad turning to me as we walked through, giddy as a goat, exclaiming quietly: "I don't know how you do it, but every year you think of something better and better for my birthday.  Thank you darling," fair brought a tear to my eye.

Christmas Eve at 360
It's an age-old tradition that we see no need to stop - sun downers at one of the world's most amazing bars. No really, it's consistently voted as so, and with good reason!  We had mused as to how they would top Santa's arrival last year - he whizzed by on a water ski.  We shouldn't have worried. This year he soared through the sky over the sea  on a motor-ised parasail thingy, James Bond style.  LOVE Dubai!

Christmas Day at the Ritz
We started with Veuve at my apartment and quickly adopted the usual position on the lawn at the Ritz.  It was definitely the best year ever, as they'd reduced the amount of people considerably (don't mention the roast potato shortage of 2009!) which meant it was much more relaxed and easy to get access to the food - and the free-flowing champers too, of course!  Beautiful food, great music, ambience, a paddle in the sea in between courses, and great, great company.  Popped the family in a taxi home when they revealed that they were absolutely leathered and carried on without them in the downtown bars.  Who says drinking for 13 hours solid is difficult?!

Boxing Day and the Burj Khalifa
You may think that one trip up the world's tallestbuilding is enough, but you'd be wrong!  I've now been up three times, and loved every minute of it all.  My mum and A were both a barrel of nerves before we got into the disco lift (if you've been up, you'll know what I mean) but they both coped admirably when we got up there.  I , meanwhile, nearly cartwheeled round the outdoor deck, gleefully sticking my hands and feet through the specially costructed gaps.  Yes, this is me, who walked out crab-like and hunched over on my first visit just six months ago.  Whether it's living on the 28th floor or just visits to the Burj itself, my fear of heights is cured.  Brillsville!

So that's it.  These were just the highlights I can think of right now.  There were also the simple blissful venings spent eating cheese and drinking wine in front of Muppet Christmas carol, and the trips to the supermarket to buy mops and newspapers (!).  It was over all too quickly and I don't know when I'll see the family again.  Sigh.  Another wonderful Christmas in the memory bank, and more to follow, I'm sure.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Eagle has (almost) Landed!

I've spent the last 48 hours on tenterhooks - as have many British ex-pats - wondering if the family are going to make it to Dubai for Christmas.  We seem to go through this every year, such is the danger of a) living in a tiny island which gets fog-bound in the middle of summer b) travelling in December when the UK seems to be completely snowed in.

I bluffed my way through numerous emails and calls with my dear mum, but truth be told, I was getting a little concerned.  The thought of seeing my 74 year old grandmother on the floor of Gatwick Airport, wrapped in a tinfoil sheet, on the front cover of the Daily Mail, was just too much to contemplate.  Stress was at fever pitch even before the bad weather hit, with my grandmother (aka Joan Collins due to her penchant towards fashion and glamour)  apparently planning for every eventuality.  She had contacted her gay neighbours and told them who to speak to if the plane crashed...I ask you - nothing like positive thinking!  So you can see how the weather put the tin lid on the whole situation.

Anyway, I can confirm that the entire family, is as we speak, boarding the plane to Dubai.  Just as soon as the Emirates and Gatwick Airport websites are displaying the magic word ('airborne') I shall relax.  Well until 2 am when I have to go and meet them at the airport!

I'm not complaining.  I know they are some of the lucky few - stories abound of those stranded with no hope of getting anywhere near home or their loved ones for Christmas.  Thank you universe! (And Gatwick Airport for being so much more on the ball than Heathrow!)

The Year that Was

As each year draws to a close, I do like to think back over the previous 12 months and muse on the highs and lows.  Let's be clear, I'm blessed that my life is mostly about the highs, but still, you get what I mean.  This year has been nothing short of spectacular.  Lots of travel, lots of adventures, and a life surrounded by people that I love dearly.  Some, of course, are further away than others.  It's been such a blur at times that I had to dig out my diary, passport AND re-read Britney of Arabia, just to see exactly what I've been up to!  So, some of my highlights:

Whether it's been business or pleasure, 2010 saw me travel more than I could have imagined.  And it still wasn't enough!  Started the year with a very cold Amsterdam, a quick jump to Manchester (no need for the weather!), then Oman, Qatar, Syria, India, Manchester (no need for the weather!), Oman, Oman, Singapore, Bali, and Jordan.  I've been lucky to spend most of these trips with a fabulous selection of people.  The less fabulous tend to be work-related!  Early 2011 will see my second arabic wedding in Sharm and Cairo (Elnett sales are sure to spike), and then we're all over HK.  Jersey Rich, you have been warned...

New Home
June saw me move into the most fabulous new apartment.  I could happily while away an evening lying on the sofa looking at the view (obviously am far too busy for this to be a regular occurrence!) and I still enjoy watching the reactions of new visitors as they are drawn silently to the window and stand, noses pressed against the glass, jaws open.  But it wasn't just the bricks and mortar aspect of the apartment that I loved, and still do: it was the fact that it was mine, and mine alone.

Growing Desert Family
In March we had a new team member in the form of M.  She'd come over for New Year's Eve, and amazingly, our spank-dancing congas hadn't put her off a) living in Dubai b) associating herself with us.  Her exploits and stories of Dubai's debt and subsequent re-structuring have kept us more than entertained.  And she is (of course) the most  perfect travel and sunlounger companion.  M, we love you.  Hurry home from the snow-filled UK.

Shrinking Desert Family
It was the end of an era when V left the Middle East and headed back to Manchester.  I blogged about it at the time so I won't repeat myself: suffice to say, we still miss you!  Although everyone says that this is to be expected in an ex-pat environment, and life is more transient, it doesn't make it easier to forget great friends.  Especially when they leave such a gaping hole behind them.

Major Openings
On January 4th, the world's tallest building (Burj Khalifa) finally opened, and in May, we were guests at the first event to be held inside it.  It's every bit as fabulous as you might imagine and although I see the building about ten times a day, every day, I never tire of drinking it in.  And, despite my fear of heights, I've been to the top - twice! Third time will be with the parentals and grandma over Christmas.  No gin or Xanax was needed, and my fear of heights appears to have been cured as a result - I can gaily step onto my balcony now without inching out onto it as I used to previously.

New Sports
This year was the year that we embraced men in tight trousers: otherwise known as polo.  When we weren't lazing around on the beach, Fridays were made for wine, food, and the sport of kings.  Not really sure of any of the rules or what is going on, but boy is it entertaining!  And sometimes if you're really lucky, you get to sneak 'backstage' (should that be 'backstable'?!) and stroke the noses of gorgeous polo ponies.  We shall be returning very soon.

Significant Moments
I celebrated my third (where did the time go?) birthday in Dubai, and am about to spend my third Christmas here.  We've seen our fair share of other significant moments: divorces (2), pregnancies (2 - just to be clear - neither was me), car crashes (1, inshallah), cat deaths (1) and all the ups and downs which come with living away from home.  I don't go into personal details on here unless pressed, but there were also some pretty fabulous new beginnings, and changes that are still surprising me today. 

I think that's it!  To be honest it's been such a washing-machine whirl at times I've struggled to recount everything.  As ever, thank you universe for my blessed, blessed life, with so many wonderful people who I love very dearly.  2011 is already shaping up for more of the same...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fashion Forward

I'm quiet again - which can only mean one thing - I'm drowning in work. Washing machine/heart attack status has been thoroughly resumed.  As usual, a combination of workload and unrealistic expectations on all fronts. 

Anyway! Amongst the madness there was an interesting cultural moment today.  I was heading off to see a client (part of the government) where a large part of the team is made up of locals, in national dress.  Obviously anyone with half a brain knows that this means that you also dress accordingly.  Not really an issue for me as a) I'm old enough to know this and dress appropriately each day b) my working wardrobe is more Karen Millen than Vicky Pollard.

Despite this a team member from the advertising side felt the need to comment on my dress (high necked, pussy bowed, long-sleeved to the knee - a treat, no?) as we were leaving.  "You know" she said.  "It's very conservative where we're going."  I sighed, and resisted the urge to lambast her.  I frequently lament the outfits I see in the mall on tourists, nay residents who should know better, and would hate to think that I'd offended anyone in my host country and home.  Despite that I did start to worry that a glimpse of calf might ruin our working relationship and send the client into a frenzy.

The meeting passed without incident.  I sat behind a table hoping I hadn't offended anyone.  As I stood to leave, my client called me back.  "Kelly," he said.  "Can I just say, you look great today!"

Always nice to hear, but especially give the situation.  Fashion score one, to me.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Needle in a Generic Haystack

Yes, I'm back from Jordan!  Full update to follow.  In the meantime, I'm throwing myself into the festive period with gusto.  Not as easy as it sounds (and at least not as easy as in the UK).  Nothing to do with living in a Muslim country, let's be clear, more to do with being chained to my desk ever since I got back, and the general inconvenience of Dubai - nothing is in one place, and buying anything usually involves trips to multiple destinations. 

This weekend my main priority is the tree, and accompanying decorations.  General Christmas present shopping is taking  place during snatched half hours (benefit of working/living next to the world's biggest mall.)  But Dubai isn't a place for those unique, unusual, thoughtful gifts, the likes of which you stumble across in Oklahoma in the NQ or when generally muntering round the streets of Manchester, so it's that much harder to source gifts. 

One solution, of course, is to embrace internet shopping, and have a variety of fabulous gifts delivered to your dear family in the UK.  They can then act as gift mules and cart them over when they come to visit.  It's actually quite amusing getting the daily emails from my dear mum ("xxxx has arrived!" "why did you order xxx?") but she's getting used to it.  The Jersey postman has never seen so much action.  Thanks, Mum!