Friday, August 29, 2008

HopFest 2008!

My sincerest apologies to Mr. Wade Shaver - my future father-in-law - but Miller Genuine Draft has been unseated. Further apologies to Mr. James Mueller - my father - Genesee cream ale, while never ranked, has been further beaten down.
The Giant Red Kangaroo of Hopfest and our european friends have opened my eyes to what beir is. The beers that we had were better described as a savory milkshake than anything I've had before. They were good - but sadly, it only comes once a year.

The event is held each summer in Irish Village (aptly named) in Dubai. For one day, they cover the whole place with a tent, air condition it, cover the floor with sawdust, and set up stands with 120 types of beer. That's it. A tent, some beer, and a lot of British, Aussies, and Kiwis. Nope, no Americans - we were clearly the only ones. Ironically, the bands played nothing but American music - and I mean Southern: Sweet Home Alambama, Country Road (Take Me Home), and many, many more. Not only did they sound good, but they dressed the part:
Katie and I managed to try quite a few different brews, but I think I had a little more variety than she did:

Delirium Tremens (which means "the shakes")

(don't know how many though)

Next week for Ramadan, ShishaFest 2008! Is he kidding? Is he serious? Tune in and find out!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

48 Hours!

Backup Singer: I'm outta time, and all I got is 48 hours.
Madonna: Time Is Waiting!
Justin: We Only Got 48 Hours To Save The World!
Madonna: No Hesitating!

That's right - just 48 hours and change until the start of Ramadan! No eating, no drinking - at all, even water - during daylight for 30 days. As you can imagine, that makes for some cranky people at about noon - low blood sugar, no water, and tired from the night before. But don't worry - all offices close at 3pm during Ramadan :) Don't believe me? Here's the wikipedia for you:

Still, this creates a problem for us non-Muslims, since we have to adhere in public at all times. Typically, a hotel or restuarant remains open, but most of the Western social life is tapped out. It does, however, get replaced by an incredible Muslim evening phenomenon - gourging on food, tea, and sheesha until late in the night, every night. Tents are setup everywhere, and festivities tend to be pretty serious - most people put on a few kilos over the month.

So for the next 48 hours, we're getting everything out of our system (or in it, then out of it) - the weekend is 2 hours away, and everyone is getting all riled up. And hey, with any luck, we won't end up like this 30 days from now (that's, um, me on the left, and Katie on the right):

Behind The Laughter: An Office Tragedy

A lot of you have said "Hey, Matt & Katie, why don't you actually have to go to work?" Good question! Not only do we have to work both days and nights (these posts don't write themselves!), but frequently, our jobs put us in hazardous, embarassing, or just awkward situations.
To dispell the notion of Dubai as a job-free and consequence-free environment, I'll offer up a painful occurence from my past. Seeking to get some correct posture, I've been breaking every fashion and managerial rule in the book by holding meetings from my exercise ball. See the artist's rendering below, except picture me talking to my team from the comfort of a purple one:
So, Dubai wanted some karma back - and at 2:13pm on Monday, it got it. My purple exercise ball BURST from under me like a balloon. I instantly fell to the floor in the middle of writing an email, and whacked the heck out of my tailbone. Unforunately, the bruising didn't stop there.

Ask yourself, what's worse than finding yourself on the floor underneath your desk, in a suit, and in pain? Realizing that a) you need to get to the gym, and b) you just made a giant exploding sound in an office full of Americans in the Middle East. Scared co-workers, after ducking, came running to see me sitting on shreds of my ball:
And then the laughing began.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Property Launch, With No Properties?

With the real estate industry still booming in Dubai, competition amongst the various luxury developers has become very competitive. As a result, the launch events for these properties (where high rollers come with a check book and purchase whole floors of condos on the spot) has become, like everything else in Dubai, over the top! These launch events are usually held in ballrooms and included seated 4 course meals, entertainment, famous MCs, free give aways, and more. Luckily for us, if you are dressed nice and feign interest in buying a condo you can usually take part in the festivities.
Last Thursday we weaseled our way into a launch event where Enrique Iglesias was having a private concert! The entire night was completely over the top, so much so that during the party Desert Dream Properties (the developer) had spent so much time and money on their property launch that they ACTUALLY FORGOT TO SELL ANYTHING. A three course dinner, performances by Enrique Iglesias, Raghav feat. Redman, and Elissa, plus comedic MCing by Arsenal player Ian Wright? Yes, quite fun for us and 100 other people - as well as THE exclusive event in Dubai for the night. But man - when they wake up in the morning and realize they didn't make any money? Now that's a hangover!Insult to injury - not even the couple above (that Enrique pulled out of the crowd to serenade) purchased an apartment. Ouch.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aye Carumba, I Miss My Mexican Food!

Dubai has it all… great nightlife, a booming economy, 7 star hotels… but unfortunately, Dubai is severely lacking in the Mexican food department. As my college roommates know, I made weekly Qdoba trips for the Chicken burrito (Not the healthiest habit, but definitely the most satisfying). Mexican and I go together like peanut butter and jelly and ever since I have arrived in Dubai I have been on a mission to fulfill my desire.

Then one day, our friend Imad said two glorious words to me – Maria Bonita. From the freshly baked corn tortilla chips to guacamole made table side to our steak fajitas and chicken enchiladas… perfection. (The only down side is that it isn’t attached to a hotel-therefore no drinking allowed- so we weren’t able to wash down our Mexican Perfection with a margarita).
And much to my delight, Imad introduced me to another Mexican gem, El Chicos, with its glorious and calorific queso. The only problem is that Imad has been my Mexican food enabler and we have eaten at the two restaurants about 6 times in the last 2 weeks. Seriously.

As a result, I now am in Mexican food rehab and I have been trying to wean myself of tacos and salsa. I hope I can make it through this difficult time in my life and I promise I have sworn off Mexican food…until next week.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Love Fishes 'Cuz They're So Delicious!

Last Saturday the DSW (Dubai Social Women) decided to take a day to bond with the girls and to celebrate our friend Emma’s birthday by going to the Talise Spa in the Madinat Jumeriah hotel while the DSM (Dubai Social Men) spent the day fishing in Sharjah. Much to our surprise, after a relaxing day of massages, we were sent a text message that read: “We are cookin a feast fo’ ya’ll”. Apparently, the boys had a pretty successful day of fishing and were feeling motivated enough to cook the fresh fish of the day for us to enjoy. Not that we didn’t trust them…but we were half- expecting to arrive to see just a plate of cooked fish on the table. But Imad and Matt proved us wrong, when we walked into Imad’s apartment where they were furiously cooking in the kitchen – filleting fish, making garlic bread, tossing a cucumber salad and not to mention the appetizer spread on the table which included mozzarella wrapped in roasted red peppers, an assortment of cheeses and sautéed portobello mushrooms. We ended the night with full stomachs and games of Kung Fu Panda on Xbox and the ladies all agreed that this how the world should work - the men should do the hunting, gathering AND the cooking while the women focus on more important things… like getting the knots out of our backs.

Here Fishy Fishy Fishy

This post is dedicated to my dear brother, Chris, without whom I never would've thought it was a good idea to get on a boat at 6am, drive out in the ocean halfway to Iran, and feed barracuda with four other guys. But yes, things have gotten desperate here in the Emirate of Dubai - our apartment was out of food. So, we hopped in the car, drove to Sharjah (the next Emirate over - about an hour ride), and chartered a fishing boat for the day.
Our captain, a extremely nice man from Lebanon, was also an avid diver and spearfisher. What that meant was that not only did he know exactly where to fish, he knew everything about the ocean floor. "The snapper are down there on the bottom, feeding on bait fish in the rocks. They won't go more than a meter up, becuase there are hundreds of barracuda circling, waiting to attack. Your line is on the ground - the snapper are looking for it, trying to find where the smell of sardines is coming from. Wait for it...wait for it". The man was a bit of a fish whisperer, but he was usually right. We caught a trove of fish - about 40 in our five-hour expedition. By about 11am, nothing was biting (mostly becuase they were all in our baitwell, getting ready for dinner). You can see the genocide here - one fish, two fish, red fish, uh, barracuda fish:
I even caught the only tuna, though it was also a record for the smallest fish caught on the trip. That, however, didn't stop Imad from immediately going for some impromptu sashimi.Lastly, we pulled back in past the Sharjah coast guard, and took the day's catch over to the fish market for cleaning. I say that very loosely, since there wasn't a single thing with half a mile of this place that I'd call clean:
Don't forget to watch the video:

And the day victorious, the men then travelled back to their caves to prepare dinner for the women. As always, the full photograph evidence is available here:

The Grand Return for Emma's Birthday

Exhausted from so much travel, the seven of us returned to Dubai to find it just as we had left it: hot and sandy. Three weeks away from Dubai is an eternity though - when you come back, the landscape is different from the pace of construction. The Burj Dubai was a little taller, the roads had all been changed again, and I SWEAR that there's a tower that just wasn't here when we left. At least some things never change: Dubai brunch!
For our dear friend Emma's birthday, her husband Dan (you may remember him from such posts as Dude-with-Guitar-talks-to-dude-with-Towel) prepared a surprise banquet at Ewaan in the Palace Hotel, just next door to us. The reunion was a great surprise for her (pictured with her best "Dan, you did NOT" face below), with 18 of us gathered around after flying in from the US, UK, France, Croatia, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon - all a day or two before.
Overall, it was a great day, with your typical brunch fixin's (though I hesitate to call any brunch typical): champagne. Oh, and some sort of food stuffs put out by the hotel - I didn't really make it past the mashed potatoes myself :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Le Parapluie de Versailles, or The Umbrella That Wasn't

They might have great wine, food, and sites, but I've found one thing that Parisians are severely lacking in (no it's not friendly behavior) it's high quality umbrellas! On the morning of our much anticipated trip to Versailles we were blindsided with cold, rainy weather. Of course, were were totally unprepared for these elements, so in a fit a despair I went to the local patisserie to grab eclairs and a cafe au lait to drown my sorrows, before we boarded our bus. My hopes for a perfect Versailles day were dashed! Matt, thinking a bit more clearly, went to corner shop to buy umbrellas for us both, so that we could enjoy the impending garden and foundation tour at the palace.

The fountain display is set to music, and it seems that my red umbrella, emblazoned with the word 'Paris' on it about a hundred times, decided that it wanted to dance along. Within seconds of stepping outside it began rhythmically turning inside out and back again, so violently that 2 of the prongs broke with it. Matt and I tried to right the wrong while standing there getting drenched in the gardens, but it was no use, the umbrella was rendered useless. At one critical moment I actually threw it on the ground in desperation but I didn't think looking down on me that Louis XIV would be too pleased with my littering!

Thankfully the ladies in Dubai have showed me a thing or too about style, my trusty pashmina converted into the perfect head wrap. Next time we need to spend more on umbrellas and less on eclairs!
Watch the desperation here:

Paris In Pictures

What to say about the City of Lights? The history, the romance, the wine, (the cheese!), the grandeur, this city speaks for its self and we had a great time listening in!A gorgeous Paris day, in front of the Tour Eiffel.In front of the glass pyramid at the Louvre, or the "Blade" for you da Vinci code fans.She's such a pretty lady - the Venus de Milo, beautiful even without her arms.I've had a crepe at this stand every single time I've been to Paris! Place St -Michel.

The paps won't leave us alone! Having lunch at Les Deux Magots (yes, the Two Maggots), opened in 1914 is was a popular hang out for folks like Sartre and Hemmingway. Best lunch we had in Paris!

In front of Our Lady, Notre Dame.

Climbing the Tour Eiffel

All those stairs make you hungry! Good thing we had lunch reservations at the Eiffel Tower's Altitude 95 restaurant. (I'll let you guess how high up it is...hint, it's in the name, in meters of course).The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Sadly, they didn't have any reservations available for an upcoming wedding!We got our fill of Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Picasso and the like; Matt in the atrium of the Musee d'Orsay.

On our way to the Moulin Rouge!

Man those girls can kick! We were surprised with front row seats to watch the glamorous (and scantily clad) ladies - no pictures allowed inside, I wonder why?!

On the Champs Elysees in front of the Arc de Triomphe

Enjoying the scene at Sacre Coeur, we climbed all the way to the top of the tallest dome.

At the top of Notre Dame, my favorite gargoyle, ever contemplating, in front of the Pompidou

The Siege of Dubrovnik

One of the most amazing - and upsetting - pieces of Dubrovnik history was an incredibly recent one. Few cities in the world still retain their medieval defensive structures – walls, forts, etc. NONE that I know of have used them to defend against an invasion in the last 15 years. Just before the start of the Bosnian War in 1991/92, Dubrovnik and its surrounding areas were invaded by JNA forces from Montenegro, Bosnia, and Serbia. The forces quickly took most of the area – Croatia had given up its military to become and independent country – and surrounded the old city of Dubrovnik. Incredibly, with nothing more than small arms, citizens defended both the old city (inside the walls) and the fort at the top of the overlooking hill for more than six months against, tanks, artillery, and a full naval blockade. Despite cutting off water, electricity, and food supplies amid an enormous international outcry (the artillery shells were destroying 600 year old buildings in a UNESCO world heritage site), invading forces were never able to take the town. A huge reconstruction effort ensued, including replacing 70% of the ancient tile roofs, which had been destroyed by fire and shrapnel. The new roofs carry a reddish-orange color, since the original brown and tan clay from the 1600 and 1700s no longer exists. Most of the damage has been repaired (you can see marble patchwork on many of the ancient buildings and sculptures), and Dubrovnik is now a thriving tourist destination once more. Still, there are many reminders of the aggression – from the landmines that are still strewn around the surrounding hills, to the stories we hear from our tour guides and taxi drivers of where they hid to survive the room-to-room fighting for the city. Through all of this, they've rallied around a single word, and it flies on a flag at the top of the City Walls: Libertas.Definitely a sobering moment on a sun-soaked vacation, but one that has contributed so much to the history and personality of the people and town of Dubrovnik.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dubrovnik in Pictures

The Jewel of the Adriatic? I’ll say! The old city in Dubrovnik is absolutely stunning. Unlike their neighbors to the North (Split), Dubrovnik was rarely occupied and is a thriving, well protected city. A huge earthquake in 1667 pretty much demolished everything, and everything from the city dates from then, that is until the Bosnians and Serbs bombed the city in 1991 (more on that later). The views from the city walls are amazing and there is a hum of liveliness on the streets. The old city doesn’t allow any cars so everything is within walking distance. Instead of getting hotel rooms we rented apartments in the old city, they were beautiful and made us feel like we were "home". Our two days there consisted of: waking up to the church bells chiming in the square, rolling out of bed for a coffee and croissant at the café around the corner, exploring medieval ruins, and strolling around town until it was time for a fresh fish dinner – catch of the day, and a glass of the house wine. I envy everyone who lives here!We didn't know there were no roads! We had to get 3 suitcases and a dive bag down these impossibly steep stairs! I think you can see the distress on our faces! Uh oh!The feast we had the first night. We ordered by yelling out our window to the restaurant downstairs! Talk about delivery service.Out and about on the old city streets.The unbelievable views from the original city walls.Matt, with the old ship repair shop in the background.Enjoying the view! The Bokar Tower (fort) is the the background.A portrait in front of the old city.Lisa took a motorcycle to a bluff looking over the entire city. (No she didn't drive).Lisa and the beautiful Old City of Dubrovnik. You can see the city walls that surround the town.The stairs in front of St. Ignatius Church, done by the same designer of Rome's famous Spanish Steps.

Drinking from Onofrio fountain. The water comes pure strait from the ground, you can see people having a drink or refilling water bottles all day.

The view from our apartment window, St. Blaise church and Luza Square