Monday, September 19, 2011

Pounding the Pavements

I’ve always been relatively active. Back in the UK I walked everywhere and hit the gym regularly – well it was only 500 yards from my city centre pad.  Fast-forward to Dubai and 12 hour days do rather eat into one’s exercise plan.  But given that one is in a bikini for 50 weeks of the year, it’s a constant and very necessary battle to stay fit and trim.

The solution?  Let me introduce an old Manchester staple: Monday night running club!  Yes, way back when I was thin as a whippet and had more time on my hands, E and I used to meet up every Monday and run around Chorlton Water Park.  Happy days!  It worked for a number of reasons: Mondays are not a staple of the social calendar so you’re unlikely to be tempted by offers of new bar openings or events, it was a regular date and it allowed for gossip and catch ups during the exercise.  Anything which tricks my brain into thinking I am not exercising is most, most welcome.

As Sunday is the Dubai Monday, we’ve decided to introduce this here. Let’s be clear, I’ve only been out twice so far.  But this is how good habits start, no?  Let’s also be clear: as long as the humidity is hovering around the 80% plus mark and the nightly temperatures remain at 39 degrees plus, we’re never going to be winning any prizes for speed or distance.  Quite the opposite. 

We’ve got a regular rhythm going: Let’s run until the traffic lights.  Or the roundabout. Or the ice-cream shop.  Or until we want to pass out (with the current weather conditions, this doesn’t take long.) 

I’m not going to lie, I’m not a natural runner.  My heart doesn’t sing as I pound the (marble) pavements.  But what I do enjoy is running past the beautiful buildings, sparkly palm trees and of course, the world’s tallest building.  And despite the oppressive heat, I’d take that over the cold wet driving Manchester rain.  And we ARE approaching winter.   I’m determined to go at least once a week.  Watch this space.

Slaving Over a Hot Stove

Yes, I did wear a hat...

I adore Italian food.  This being Dubai, I don’t cook nearly as much as I used to back in the UK, where getting  home from work at a reasonable time meant your whole evening lay ahead of you, full of opportunity to slave over a hot stove.  So when I heard about a new cookery school opening up in Dubai, with Italian classes from no less than the Executive Chef at Carluccio’s, I was all over it like a rat up a palm tree. 

My first class was last weekend: Pasta and Risotto.  I’ve never been to a cooking school before so I had no clue what to expect.  This being Dubai, it was a swish affair, a fully-kitted out teaching kitchen in a very nice cafĂ©.  Glass walls meant that those having lunch or coffee could see exactly what we were up to, which could have been off-putting, but we were soon having way too much fun to worry about bystanders.

The dishes we were tasked with? Orecchiette with broccoli and ham (in the most divine creamy sauce) and Risotto with Courgette (and another creamy sauce.  With Gorgonzola.  My waistline wept as I read the ingredients!)

Our chef, being Italian, was as passionate and excitable as you would imagine, but also patient and a wealth of knowledge.  Some of his comments were pure Italian quality: “Your pasta has too much personality!!! Your rice is too thirsty!!!” and we romped through the class in a happy mix of flavours, smells and amiable conversation.

We plated up our efforts and took home leftovers, which I happily scoffed for dinner last night. Delicious. Honestly!

Next week: main courses.  Chicken Saltimbocca and some sort of stuffed aubergine.  Cannot. Wait.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Metro Joy!


There’s been much excitement in Dubai this month as the long awaited Metro Green Line opened.  Not only is this a huge achievement – the thing was barely out of the ground when I arrived three years ago – it also means that many of the older (and in my opinion most fabulous places in Dubai) are now easy to get to.  No traffic or parking woes.  I jumped the Metro home from the Marina at the weekend and was reminded just how fabulous it is. 

This being Dubai, it’s beautifully clean and efficient and when you add in the fact that it’s elevated from the road, this means you have a fabulous view of the city as you glide by.  There’s something very magical about a Dubai sunset, a rosy glow over the villas of Jumeirah and the Burj Al Arab swathed in gold.  I’m giddy as a goat to try out the line and go exploring….humidity, please end soon!

You've Been in Dubai Too Long When....

Wine: More Expensive than Gold. Almost.

There’s a standard saying here in Dubai: “You know you’ve been in Dubai too long when…”  The joke is usually rolled out in situations when you need a sense check on things, eg when you reveal that you don’t own an iron and haven’t ironed anything since you moved here three years ago. (I HATE ironing, ok!?  And it’s super cheap here!)

Two recent incidents when this phrase was needed:

Incident One: A friend has moved out of her apartment and is still waiting for her deposit to be returned.  She commented: “At the end of the day. It’s only 5000 dirhams, but it’s the principle.”

Incident Two: Discussing a popular bar in the Financial District, I found myself saying: “And the great thing is, wine is only 35 dirhams a glass.”

To clarify why these show that you’ve been in Dubai too long: the rent deposit being discussed:  850 quid.  The wine being discussed: 6 quid a glass.

Taking pause and reflecting for a moment: the rent deposit is a huge amount of money.  And six quid for a glass of wine is much more than you’d pay in the UK.  So why are we so blasĂ© about them now?

In our defence, when your rent is double what you’d pay in the UK for a similar property, and used to be quadruple, you can get a little complacent.   And when a bog standard bottle of Jacob’s Creek can retail for over 40 quid in a restaurant , you do start viewing drinks prices on a different scale. 

But still…..when there are so many simple pleasures in Dubai (beautiful parks and abra rides that cost 50p) you really should try to cling onto some perspective.  Just don’t make me do my own ironing, ok?

Jaw Dropping Burj Khalifa

It's big and beautiful!

I may have mentioned a few times just how close I live to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.  It’s the first thing I see when I pop out of my front door in the morning and I can see it from my office window.  It’s an omnipresent feature of my life.  And I may also mentioned how much I adore it: the design, the scale, and OH the twinkly sparkliness of it each night!

I try never to take it for granted and this morning I had a little reminder of why I never should.  The metro station is just next to the office, and as I made my way into work I passed the usual crowd of people making their way from the station to work.  And this morning, a little unusually, there were a few tourists (they’re not usually up and about so early.  Come 7 pm when I’m leaving work, they’re everywhere).  

I watched as one of them walked out, stopped and looked up.  And up.  And up.  And then erupted into a roar of laughter and a giant smile.  It has that effect on people, the Burj Khalifa.  It’s jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly huge.  Already looking forward to seeing its effect on the next set of visitors… 

Incredible India

Just beautiful...

I’m back from India!  My first trip there last May was extremely relaxing and this time was more of the same. One night in the most beautiful boutique hotel you’ve ever seen, three nights on a super gorgeous houseboat and four nights in an island hotel for the wedding of a lovely friend.  Wonderful trip.

What were the highlights?  Well, I’m a sucker for a wedding and it was a beautiful event.  Catholic church wedding followed by two reception parties.  Oh, and the two parties beforehand.  They know how to celebrate in India!

But before all the partying there were those four blissful nights spent exploring Allepey and cruising round the backwaters….possibly the most relaxing way to ever spend any time (apart from Creek Park joy on Saturdays in Dubai, that is!).  I romped my way through no less than six books, some of which I’d been waiting to read for months. 

There’s something quite magical about pootling along a river on a beautiful boat, with lush green scenery, sunshine, clouds and delicious company.  Oh and did I mention we had our own lovely team of people looking after us? Boat driver, cook, and one extra person (not sure what their actual job title was) to cater to our every whim.

Add into this that India is just 3.5 hours away from Dubai, and never usually more than 300 quid to get to and you can understand why it’s such a hit with everyone here.  My next trip will be to Mumbai.  After the major trip to Palestine, of course!