Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weather Watch

Ok,in general: It's good.
I did think that once I left the UK, the British obsession with all things weather related might leave me. I was wrong. We’re all just as obsessed here in Dubai. You might think that this is impossible given that for 360 days of the year blue skies and sunshine are usually on the cards. 

But I think you’ll find there’s actually quite a lot to talk about, especially during the seasonal changes. We discuss such topics as:
  • Is it getting warmer out there?
  • How warm is it exactly?
  • Is it humid?
  • How humid is it exactly?
  • Is that a cloud?
  • Is that a sandstorm?
  • Is it warm enough for a bikini?
  • Have you been in the sea this week? 
If you ask this question in the office a frantic debate will ensure with everyone giving a different opinion. There are some (moi) who sunbathe throughout the summer but find the winter too cold. Some who wakeboard the whole way through winter (AJ) but others who will not put even a toe in the sea between November-April (moi).

Today’s debate: how did it get so hot, so quickly? Last year I was still walking to work in the first week of May. Today it was a balmy 33 degrees when I left the house at 8.30. I’m not ready for Winter to be over, I’m just not. 

Last year the World Cup was hit by a freakish sandstorm and temperatures plummeted afterwards, so there is still hope that we could stretch outdoor living just a little further. Let’s see.

Nay to Neigh

Brilliant, brilliant photo.
I LOVE all things equine. Whilst I’ve never been a massive fan of actually riding horses, I’ve had some of the best days out in Dubai around them: bothering polo ponies, mingling with horse whisperers (no, really!) and watching a bit of horse racing at Meydan. So it would be a natural assumption to think that I’d be going to the Dubai World Cup this weekend – that’s the world’s richest horse race, to you!
But you’d be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I like to pull on a posh frock, climb onto sky high heels and drink wine in the sunshine as much as the next person. Just not all day. And not in the company of marauding Brits. Oh, so many drunken Brits. With zero interest in actually watching  any of the racing (hello Rugby 7’s for the same phenomena).

An antipodean friend of mine laughed as discussed this in the elevator today. “We always say that the World Cup is full of drunk offensive Brits,” she laughed. “It’s funny to hear a Brit say that you don’t want to be part of it.”
As another good friend of mine said: “It’s the equivalent of drinking wine in a field in a very smart outfit. I couldn’t get anywhere near the actual racing and didn’t see a horse the whole time I was there.”

Hmmm. Thanks but no thanks.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Goodbye to the Don

So bad it was good...
Things that are old don’t stick around for long in Dubai. I woke up last week to discover that the old road in front of my apartment had been replaced with a new shiny road, roundabout and street lights. Great! But not so great was the news that gripped the city this month: The Metropolitan, one of Dubai’s oldest hotels (30 years old, imagine) was to be demolished in favour of a new shiny ‘Vegas-style’ hotel complex. Because Dubai doesn’t have enough of THOSE. Hmmm.

Resident s became very upset about the closure of The Red Lion (scruffy pub) and The Rattlesnake (even scruffier bar).  Whilst I’ve enjoyed many a glass of over-priced boxed wine in the Red Lion and some great pub grub, my major upset was over the loss of what I firmly believed to be Dubai’s best Italian restaurant: Don Corleone.

With red and white checked tablecloths, breadsticks and staple 80’s Italian classics, it was an old favourite and much loved by Western and Arab ex-pats, and a good helping of Italians – always a good sign.  I’ve enjoyed many a meal there with friends and family and we always had the time of our lives. The staff were lovely, service was great and the very fact that it wasn’t super-swish made it all the more appealing.

We managed a last supper on the hotel's penultimate night. Some of the staff will be transferring over to the Habtoor at the Marina, but many didn’t know their fate. All very sad. Don Corleone’s, we shall miss you.

PS Any tips on equally unpretentious Italian restaurants gratefully received….I've heard good things about Il Rustico in Rydges Plaza…?

Lost Weekend in Sharjah....

When you say the word ‘Sharjah’ to UAE residents, words that spring to mind will most likely be: traffic, bad driving and more traffic. Lots of people who work in Dubai choose to live in Sharjah as the cost of rent and living is much less, which makes the journey there and back arduous during the working week.

It’s not the sort of place that many people would think of to go to for a long weekend – but then most people aren’t me. Sharjah is very much positioned as a cultural hub and as such is crammed with museums, art galleries and a heritage area – hence my interested in sniffing around for a weekend.

My verdict: some absolutely beautiful galleries and museums. Likewise the heritage area is really lovely. There is, however, absolutely no need to check into a hotel and spend the night there, like we did. A simple day trip will suffice. There, I’ve saved you 350 dirhams and a night in the world’s coldest hotel room (Sharjah Rotana.)

Home Sweet Home

Any of these downthe back of the sofa?
There are some funny anomalies in Dubai: one of the most modern, forward thinking cities in the world, boasting the world’s tallest, biggest, best, first, la la la.  It’s also a place with no postal system, hideous driving and one of the most antiquated rental systems I have ever heard of. 

I may have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: we pay our rent up front.  Worst case scenario, one year up front, best case scenario, three months up front (post-dated cheques, handed over when you sign your contract.) 

Non-Dubai dwellers stare at me incredulously when I explain this – it is true, honest.  There are some (lucky) ex-pats whose rent is paid by their employer – in which case – not so much of an issue. But if you’re forking out for this yourself, you find yourself in a monthly game of ‘don’t forget to save your rent money instead of spending it on wine’ so that you always have funds available. 

So how much cash are we talking here? Let’s just say you’re looking for a 3 bedroom villa on a modest (for Dubai) budget. IF you had to pay your rent in one lump, plus your rental agent fee (5% of total annual rent) plus your deposit (5% of annual rent), you’d be looking at……drum roll……30, 000 GBP. And this is, trust me, a modest budget. There will be people out there paying far, far more.

Never mind how you find that kind of moulah, there’s also the issue of: what if I want to move, how do I get the money back that I’ve paid? How do I have any kind of leverage if anything goes wrong with the property? More landlords are realizing that people just don’t have the funds to pay in one cheque any more (and why should they?)but not enough, in my opinion. Dubai, catch up with the rest of the world, please?