Friday, July 18, 2008

My World is So Upside Down

Oh boy, I have *so* had enough. For lent next year, I'm giving up flying. In the past 5 days, I've gone from Wisconsin to New York City to Dubai to Paris to Geneva to Vienna. My watch, phone, Outlook calendar, and brain can't agree on what day of the week it is - and it doesn't help that everyone I ask around me says "Margherita Time!". What is that, half past sip o'clock?

Fortunately, it is now precisely the right time of year - vacation time! And it couldn't have come a moment too soon. Let the festivities begin - here's a schedule of the Tour de Experience for Katie, Lisa, and myself:
  • A Historic Beginning: Vienna, Austria for 3 days
  • You Sank My Battleship: Hopefully not sinking a yacht in the Adriatic for 7 days
  • Pronouncing Random Consonants: Dubrovnik, Croatia for 3 days
  • Seriously Frenchie, I Know You Can Speak English: Paris for a week

We'll be posting sporadically (like this one from the Geneva airport), so keep checking back in!

Who Needs the Hilton Sisters?

Paris and Nikki watch out! There’s new gals in town.
We don’t strut around with small dogs in our Louis Vuittons, and we don’t say idiotic things like “that hot” but we are having fun on the Dubai social scene! Dubai society and events almost always well covered by the press, as they are trying to project a certain image of Dubai. We’ve been approached a couple times to have our picture taken and to our surprise one ended up in the paper and the other on the web!

This one appeared in the Khaleej Times, an English speaking newspaper in Dubai. It’s from the July 4th party we attended, and we were sure to pull Matt in! Shockingly they got his full name right, and I guess we didn’t deserve last names. Either that or they thought that we were his two wives (not so uncommon here)!
The other picture was from last weekend when Matt was out of town and we met some friends out on the town. You can imagine our surprise when we went to the Ahlan! Website and our picture was on the home page (it’s kind of like OK magazine or US for the Middle East). You can see it at http://www.ahlanlive.com/.

Someone Please Tell Me How to Dance to Techno!

We made a triumphant return to the Plastiq beach bar for our friend Imad’s birthday. The previous trip hadn’t been as successful as we had hoped, since we weren’t aware of the dress code (or lack there of) and didn’t realize that the real party happened during the day. This time we were prepared! Bathing suit clad and arriving at 4pm to enjoy the ‘Nikki Beach’ style venue. The entire experience feels like an Ibiza meets Miami club…in the 1980s. There is an over the top vibe here that makes you feel like Gordon Gecko might just stroll up to your table any minute (just hopefully not in a speedo).

In order to make a special contribution to the ambiance, our crew rolled into the bar with, I kid you not, giant blow-up rideable pool toys in the shapes of a seal, elephant, lobster, shark and killer whale. Only problem was these uninvited guests were such spa hogs, there was no room for us!

While it’s fun to play in the sand and the sun, Plastiq presents one major problem for hip-hop loving American girls like Lisa and I. All the music is house/techno. Yeah, we don’t know how to dance to that. We’ve tried to learn from others but it just looks like a whole lot of jumping to us! Check out Lisa’s attempt to blend in - click here for a great video.

All that jumping around must have attracted some attention. Lisa and I were approached by “Hollywood TV” channel out of Abu Dhabi to offer commentary on the club!

Monday, July 14, 2008

A-well-a Everybody's Heard About the Burj B-b-b-burj, Burj, Burj, B-burj's the Word

Every time people ask me about Dubai it is usually one of three questions:
1. Do you have to wear a burqa?
2. Have you ridden a camel?
3. Have you been to that Sail thing?

The answers are:
1. Absolutely not!
2. Not in Dubai yet, but I did in Israel
3. YES, finally!!!!!

Friday was our friend Imad's birthday, and to celebrate he booked a suite at the Burj Al Arab. For those of you who don't know (how could you not?) The Burj Al Arab is the famous "Sail Hotel" on the coastline of Dubai, and it is even more famous for being the only self proclaimed 7 Star hotel. Other interesting facts:

-It is the tallest hotel in the world
-It sits on its own man made island off the coast of Dubai
-In March 2004, professional golfer
Tiger Woods hit several golf balls from the helipad into the Persian Gulf, while
-In February 2005, professional
tennis players Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played an unranked game on the helipad, which was temporarily converted into a grass tennis court, at a height of 211 meters. The helipad has no borders or fences on the edges and if a player hit a winner the tennis balls would plunge down to the ground
-Some of the suites have 24kt gold toilets
For more facts,
click here!

We were completely overwhelmed by the huge atrium, fountains, and built in aquariums. You can think of the general decor in two ways. One, is it beautiful and over the top opulence! Two, it kind of looks like Aladdin's house threw up. I am some where in between on this one.

The suites definitely did not disappoint! All the suites there are two stories and have views of the Gulf. They also include a grand spiral staircase! Check our our picture and video tour below! At one point I looked over at Lisa who was peering out the window and she had tears in her eyes!
video

Lights, Camera, Action!

To conclude our weekend, after the very eventful snorkeling trip, we all rushed home to get cleaned up for the red carpet! We had received an invitation to the opening night of "Documentary Voices: Pulling Focus" which was the first ever United Arab Emirate initiative to focus just on documentary films.

After being ushered to our seats, there was a brief delay in the start of the ceremonies. A few minutes later amongst a flurry of excitement Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum strolled in with a posse of about 20 people and took his seat in the front row. He is the son of Sheikh Mohammed (the ruler of Dubai), so people were pretty excited that a royal was in attendance!

It was great to be an invited guest, we got to sneak preview two of the films that would be playing at the festival that week. The first was a film by Kamran Shirdel, who is known in the industry as the 'Godfather of Iranian cinema' called Dubai: A Pearl in the Gulf. The footage, which was was taken in 1974 is considered an unprecedented look at Dubai just as it began to develop. It captures amazing footage of the Bedouin way of life and the way Dubai was changing around them. Some of our favorite footage was of a 35 years younger, and aviator clad Sheikh Mohammad flying a helicopter daily over the dessert as part of his role as the minister of defense.

The second film was particularly heart wrenching, and really courageous. It is called "I know I Am Not Alone" by Michael Franti. It is the story of an American musician who goes to Iraq to tell the story of the people there, and what they are going through. He travels around the devastation with an acoustic guitar and plays music for anyone who will listen and along the way talks to American troops, and teenage Iraqi's alike about what then want for their future. The only thing missing was the paper bag I wanted to pull over my head when we had to exit, because I am so ashamed of what my country is doing there.

The evening concluded with special performance by YAS, a rap artist from Iran nicknamed the "Persian Tupac". He is the first rapper to have been granted permission by the Iranian government to release this music to the public. Lisa and I loved his performance, but were embarrassed when we gushed about it to him later, only to learn that he didn't speak any English. Ah, but through the music we had an understanding. Check his music below!


Monday, July 7, 2008

Lisa and Matt saw a shark, and I was fixing my mask!

Once we finally arrived at the JAL Fujairah Resort & Spa, we had a great day! Matt and I were excited to use our dive gear for the first time in a year, and this was going to be Lisa’s first time snorkeling! We were lucky enough to have our own equipment, while Lisa had to rent from the shop. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal expect for Lisa’s little feet were unable to fit into any adult sized fins, this lead to the creative solution of making her wear booties with the rented fins to make her feet bigger. Also, although a 3 mm wetsuit is included in the rental we persuaded her not to opt for suit as the water temperature was clocking in at about 94 degrees! video

After a brief ‘orientation’ from our captain, and I mean brief, it went something like this: “Does everyone know how to snorkel? Good. Stay away from the rocks and watch out for the sharks. They shouldn’t bite, just don’t bother them.” Sharks! What! Now Matt can’t get in the water fast enough, and Lisa’s heart can be seen throbbing out of her chest. Our French friend Basile tried to further scare her, but ended up making our sides split with laughter. He said “better watch out for the sharks, tan tan tan tan tan tan tan tan tan.” What? Turns out he was trying to sing famous Jaws theme of “duhh dun, duuuuhhhh dun, dun dun dun….” Look, I don’t know exactly how it is spelled either, but I know it isn’t ‘tan’. I guess that is what a French shark sounds like!
Once in the water we gained more confidence as we swam with the fish, so much so that when a friendly black tip reef shark decided to make an appearance Lisa got herself separated from the group because she was chasing it! I had to settle for Matt and Lisa’s version of events because I was defogging my mask at the time (see the foggy mask picture below). No fair!

We’re not in Kansas, errr…Dubai, anymore


It started and ended as a great idea. Let’s go snorkeling. The journey, and I literally mean journey, took us to 2 countries and 3 Emirates by the time we arrived to our destination, and not all of those locations were intentional.

To go snorkeling you need to leave Dubai. The development of Dubai and its many projects has really ruined the coastline and the coral reefs that used to exist here. Some of the best snorkeling is located in Fujairah, one of the neighboring Emirates whose coast line is on the Gulf of Oman rather than the Arabian Gulf. There is a beautiful dive site there called Dibba Rock, so despite the 2 hour drive, we decided to set out to experience it!

About an hour into the drive we realized that not only were our directions inaccurate, but that the signage once you leave Dubai city proper is SEVERELY lacking. It occurred to us that we had been going the opposite direction almost the whole time! We find ourselves in Sharjah (another emirate) where public beheadings are still practiced and I am sure that our sundresses wouldn’t pass the “decency laws” that they impose there. Lisa and I wrapped ourselves in beach towels while our lone car drove through Bedouin camps and small villages. All we could see is desert and camels, and more desert! As Matt tries to right the wrong while calling for directions, we pass a big sign that says “Welcome to the Sultanate of Oman”. We are in Oman?! I started yelling for Matt to pull a ‘U’ turn as none of us have passports and I don’t think we are in any condition to get into a border incident with the authorities.

As we head on the road back into the UAE, we finally receive appropriate directions, only to find out that we are still 90 minutes away from our destination. We are never going to make our 9am boat! Determined as always, Matt puts the pedal to the metal and now we are flying through the mountain passes of Fujairah, in a veritable ‘no mans land’ of rock, and date trees. At one point we came around a bend and had to slam on the brakes because two goats were crossing the road! We were convinced we would never find the place, when it finally revealed itself from behind a mountain range. We had missed our boat, but the dive center was nice enough to give us our own! How’s that for karma?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Fourth of Julai in Dubai: The Celebration

Never have I been more excited to load a flimsy paper plate full of spare ribs, baked beans, potato salad, and corn on the cob! Matt, Lisa and I went to the American Business Council’s July 4th party at the Emirates Hills Golf Course on Friday. We had a blast! The Council really out did themselves, and created such an “American festival” atmosphere, that unless you saw the Burj Al Arab glimmering in the distance, you could really have pretended that you were any where in the US.
The aforementioned buffet was the cause of much excitement, as the selections of American picnic food were dead on! I never remembered liking baked beans so much, but I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder! We were also treated to lasagna, macaroni salad, hot dogs, and hamburgers. For dessert we had our pick of Mississippi mud pie, apple pie, pecan pie, or NY style cheesecake, needless to say, we tried all of them!

The picnic was a “Boogie Woogie” theme, with a live band treating us to classic 70’s music from the states. We pulled some funky dance moves on the outdoor dance floor until we were interrupted with a surprise fireworks display which was paired with “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen blasting from the mega sound system. It was incredibly surreal, and made everyone’s eyes glisten with a little mixture of pride and homesickness.
In case you had any doubt that we would represent the US to the best of our ability check out our coordinating American flag inspired outfits!

That is Some Tasty Ostrich!

Our threesome attended a special South African wine dinner at The Cellar restaurant last Monday. We were really excited to get last minute reservations for the dinner, as they usually are booked far in advance, and The Cellar has easily been one of our favorite restaurants in Dubai since Matt and I shared our Valentine’s Day dinner there. The menu consisted of a 5 course meal with a wine pairing for each course. As the most adventurous foodie in our group, Matt wasn’t foreign to any of the courses, but Lisa and I shared the experience of trying ostrich for the first time! Yummy! The menu included, and I quote (I only do this for Matt's brother Chris, who demands the details of our meals!)

Amuse Bouche
Flambeed ostrich vol au vent

Starter
Prawn and grouper tower set on grilled pineapple round finished with a cape Malay yogurt dressing

Soup
Spinach and brown rice with turmeric

Main Course
Venison loin with roasted root vegetable champ set on stir friend apple and cabbage, with jus
OR
Parcel baked monk fish set on bed of creamy wheat noodles with shellfish and tomato sauce
Dessert
Traditional malva pudding vanilla ice cream and butter sauce


Friday, July 4, 2008

4th of Julai in Dubai

Happy 4th of July to all of our American friends, regardless of where you are in the world, from the folks here in Dubai! You never really appreciate everything about the US until you're away for a while, and I can honestly say I'm pretty darn proud to be an American . Most Americans still in town are really geared up for a full day and night of patriotism - which from what I've seen so far, is just a synonym for "Bud Lite". For our part, we're getting ready right now to head over to the American Business Consulate and Emirates Hills golf club for a night of burgers, fries, Coke, and yes - apple pie. It's a beautiful July night over here - hazy, breezy, and 100 degrees. Happy Independence Day everyone!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Behold, the Thunderbox

Heading around town in a dhow is something that most Dubai tourists get a chance to do, but like everything at Dubai Social, few do it in so much style. We went on a dhow with so much retro charm, the "toilet" was attached to the back of the boat, hanging from chains. That's no American Standard, big boy - that there's a Thunderbox-brand hole in the floor. Custom molded wooden foot pads (because you have to squat, not sit - seriously), extra large cubby for the larger tourists, and the Thunderbox plaque of authenticity. Remember folks, if it's not a thunderbox, then you're just going to the bathroom in the river off a plank on the back of a boat. Made in the UAE - tell your friends!

Dubai Big Bus Tour - Dhow Cruise

Our tour day concluded with a cruise up and down the Dubai Creek in a traditional Dhow, wooden boats made by hand, with traditional tools. We were able to escape from the heat in the hull of the boat and once cooled off we ascended to the top deck so we could see all the sites. Both Matt and Lisa captured some really great shots of the architecture, people and sites. So I am going to let the pictures do the talking! (Also, there is one picture, that deserves its own blog post. Matt will tell you all about that one...)

Dubai Big Bus Tour - No Man's Land and the Gold Souk

We started off strong with some really culturally valuable information from our guide and a trip to the Dubai Museum, however things were about to take a turn for the worst. Upon trying to pick the bus back up at the museum to continue the tour (the buses run every 30 mins), we realized the some novice guide on our first bus had collected our tickets and not given them back to us. So even though we could procure the credit card receipt which showed that we had bought the tickets just an hour ago, they said that the original ticket was the only valid way to continue on our tour. Well, we had just spent 575Dhs on the tickets and therefore there was no way that we were going anywhere!

Matt sprang to action, which in Dubai, means arguing. Many calls later to the manager of the company and we were told that we were going to be let back on, and that at the next stop we would be issued fresh tickets. However, Matt knows better than to have someone tell him "it's no problem, sir", because that most likely means that their will definitely be a problem. The altercation concluded with Matt giving the bus driver a piece of paper and saying "if it isn't going to be a problem to get on the next bus, then I want you to write: I, Shah, (the guy's name that Matt read on his badge) confirm that it will be no problem to get on the next bus." He manages to write the statement but he hesitant to sign and Matt starts urging "sign your name, sign your name!" It was pretty funny and genius move, as in Dubai, most people will just deny whatever it is they told you. With Shah's autograph in hand, we were able to hop off the bus to enjoy "Heritage Village". Long story short, 15 minutes was wasted on arguing with the tour company and the other 15 we were lost trying to find the attraction. So, we are going to have to try that one again.

With everyone in a cranky mood now, we were lucky that the next stops included things both sparkly and distracting. We checked out the Gold Souk which is the city's jewelry district and checked out the outrageous jewelry. Most of it is crafted for Arab or Indian weddings where adorning the bride symbolizes your family's wealth. Lisa also took some time to try on a few 'modest' pieces.

Dubai Big Bus Tour - Dubai Museum

First stop on the culture tour, the Dubai Museum. The museum is thought to be the oldest building in Dubai, being built in 1800, and it originally functioned as a fort. In 1971 they opened the Dubai Museum in the renovated space. At the entrance you get to walk through a typical Bedouin house and look at some of the tools that were used in daily life. Inside you get a chance to walk through the history of Dubai room by room. The good news is that the history of Dubai goes something like this - we lived in the dessert, then oil was found, YAY!Seriously, it only takes an hour to walk through the museum. Not much changed in the first thousand years prior to 1950, and even then, real development of infrastructure didn't happen until the 1970s. The museum does give you a sense of what life was like before everything started changing. In a nutshell Dubai was a port city where the main economy came from the importing/exporting business. In addition pearl diving and date farming were the other staples. Lisa couldn't stop laughing after we watched a brief history of Dubai on video. The music accompaniment that goes along with the video is distinctly Arabic, however when the pictures of the oil being discovered are shown the music literally changes to angels singing, I kid you not. A gift from heaven? Yeah, I'd say so.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dubai Big Bus Tour - The Creek

Ok, so it turns out Dubai has some real culture to experience! Just kidding. We've been meaning to take the Big Bus Tour for weeks now, and we finally found the many dedicated hours we needed to fully enjoy it! Although, I must say the charm of the big double decker bus is lost when you are sitting on the open air top level in 105 degrees! We managed to keep the sweat at bay long enough to see some of the sights! Check out the cell phone tower below, even they are kept beautiful.
We started the tour at Wafi City Mall and immediately turned down the road where our guide pitched us on the greatness of Dubai Health Care City (where Matt works)! We slowly snaked our way North in the city and headed East over the Dubai Creek. The creek really divides 'old' and 'new' Dubai, so the best way to see what all of Dubai was like before oil was found is, to head to Deira. Off we go!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dubai, the World's Largest Sandtrap

Has anyone noticed that it's in the 110's these days in the Middle East? Nope, us neither. Which is why we've chosen to play....golf! We're overheated, underhydrated, and tired - which is precisely why we thought it was a good idea to play in a shiny new course next to construction sites. A few of us guys - some dressed better than others (that's Thomas Arnold - T-h-o-m-a-s, tarnold@gmail.com) - took to Ernie El's latest offering here in the desert. An errant sand trap ball here earns you a hardhat and a trip on a jobsite. The good news is that you're the only guy there with a glove and a golf cart!










At least in the desert there's no shortage of sand to fill our many divots. And to anyone from the course reading this - we're really sorry about those other "incidents" on hole 13. We really have no idea what we were thinking. Full Gallery here after the break.