Monday, April 20, 2009

Takeoff at The Red Bull Air Races

Now this is my kind of carnival - airplanes, inflatable water pylons, and cotton candy. Oh yeah.
The Red Bull World Air Races kicked off Friday & Saturday in Abu Dhabi to just about perfect weather. We headed up the road about an hour and half from Dubai to watch some of the best pilots in the world duke it out in a mid-air Formula 1.
Unfortunately, just like in Formula 1, the Americans stink. You can here our friend Malcolm from the UK in the background telling us that Americans are just good at being loud:

All in all, it was a pretty amazing day - these guys could do just about anything with an airplane, and close enough to the ground that you could jump up and touch the wing. The course is nothing to scoff at either - all of the pylons are made of fabric like a moon bounce, so if they get clipped by a plane they'll deflate (and the pilot will get a huge penalty). Here's one pilot coming around for his second pass after hitting a pylon on the first:
And to be fair to the pilot, here's a trial run of the course flown by Paul Bonhomme of the UK (who came in second:

And here's me, just wishing I was in one of those planes...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Final Day in Jordan AKA "The Last Crusade"

For our last day in Jordan we no longer followed in the footsteps of the bible but of Indiana Jones! We visited the “Red Rose City” of Petra. In case you need a refresher on your Last Crusade scenes, I've included the scene where the Treasury at Petra appears.

I have to say, it is totally extraordinary. You couldn’t have built this place any better if it were a movie set. The only way to gain access to Petra is through a 1.2km chasm in the Earth which at most points it only 6 – 10 ft. wide, called The Siq, and then it gives way to this incredible sight which is the Treasury. It truly looks like an untouched, ‘lost’ city. The Nabateans who built Petra literally just carved their buildings out of the rock and that marbled sandstone has the most amazing colors in it. The city is over 2,000 years old, and some of these buildings are incredibly well preserved.

The Siq

It's pretty awesome when the Treasury first reveals itself

Ta Da! The Treasury

It can take almost 2-3 days to see all of Petra on foot, and we only had 1 day so we needed to make the most of it. As such, we as a group decided to bargain with the locals to secure a donkey to take us up the over 800 steps to the top of the city where the largest monument in Petra stands – the Monastery. The hike usually takes an hour, and the donkeys tend to expedite this so we decided to give it a try.

Thirsty camel

With our guide Issa, in front of the Urn Tomb. He had quite the sense of humor he told us that Matt's donkey was named Michael Jackson and mine Monica Lewinsky.We are going up that? Matt's look says it all.Finally, the Monastery!Almost totally preserved after 2,000 years.If you build it, he will climb.

It was terrifying, most of the 800 steps are worn down, broken, only about 3 feet wide and nearly all of them are bordered on at least one side by nothing but a cliff. It seems that the donkeys actually prefer the cliff side for some reason as well and so you basically stare at your death for the next 25 minutes. If you watch the video below you will see that I make noises that just no human being should make…

Those smiles are looks of relief. We were finally back at the bottom.

It should be noted also that this donkey thing isn’t a perfect science; they aren’t exactly “trained”. In one horrifying incident, our friend Maura’s saddle broke as the donkey was climbing downhill and not only did she flip head first over the donkey but it slid down the stairs and part of him landed on her. Umm yeah, she was ok, but let’s just say she walked the rest of the way down after that.

Donkeys aside it is clear to see why Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It’s absolutely phenomenal.

This shot wasn't staged (nice job Lisa). Our driver Hassan is showing us the area.

The serious hiking and donkey riding left us all a bit exhausted, but when we met up with one of the locals who offered to take us on a sunset hike we couldn’t resist. Turns out it was more of a sunset climb, belay not included. We quite literally scaled this rock face for the next hour while he explained the local geography. When we finally reached the summit he said to us “now you have to say, ‘I’m the King of the World’!”. We all yelled it to please him, but I have to say that just for a few minutes it certainly felt like it.

Our sunset climb.

Totally worth the scrapes and bruises!

Weekend in Jordan, Part 2: Biblical Road Trip

For our second day in Jordan we travelled from Amman to Madaba, to Mount Nebo and finally ended up at the Dead Sea. We were equipped with a tour guide and the Lonely Planet guide to Jordan, but I quickly realized that the best guide book would have been a copy of the Bible! 10 years ago when I spent a month in Israel I had the same feeling, which is appropriate because the borders of the West Bank loomed large from almost every vantage point we had.

We started the day in the city of Madaba, whose claim to fame is a mosaic map on the floor of an old Byzantine church which is the oldest surviving depiction of the holy land and Jerusalem. I can think of a faster way to draw a map than with hundreds of tiny tiles, but at least the effect is awesome!

Oldest map of the Holy Land, the floor of Saint George's church in Madaba

Thousands of tiny tiles
From there we headed West to Mount Nebo which has amazing views of the holy lands including the Dead Sea, Jericho, and Jerusalem, according to the final chapter of Deuteronomy, Mount Nebo is where the Moses was given a view of the promised land that God was giving to the Jews. "And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho." Moses apparently also climbed to the top of the mountain before he died and was buried here by God himself. In 2000 Pope John Paul made a pilgrimage here, as it is one of the holiest Christian sites in Jordan.
Looking out on the West Bank
Quite the view, I can totally see what Moses was inspired by: location, location, location.Matt must climb on everything - I think my t-shirt says it all...

In continuing our walk down biblical-lane we made one last stop at the site of Jesus’ baptism on the Jordan River. Interesting enough I was also told that I had been to this site when I was on the Israeli side of the Jordan River, turns out it is slightly disputed, but historians are on the side of Jordan for this one. Unfortunately, years and years of rerouting and damming the river have left this site as not much more that a dry mud bed, but we were impressed to see that they had created a mosaic to memorialize the site and included a website!, check it out!

The presumed spot, an outcove on the Jordan River

Our final stop was the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea. It is also 33.7% salt. Yummy! We bobbed peacefully, enjoying the feeling of weightlessness as the salty water made us float. Then in order to get the true Dead Sea experience we covered ourselves in the thick black mud found on the shores which is famed for its healing and anti-aging properties. Anything to look good for the wedding! The mud also seemed to bring out the super heroes that lived inside of us, I felt like a character from X Men. I think you'll agree everybody looks good with a little bit of mud on them!

Look Mom no hands!

Lisa catching up on the latest issue of Jordan Business magazine

Bobbing in the Dead Sea

The transformation begins!

Wearing turtlenecks on the beach! (Also known as the floating head picture)

The "super hero" powers take over, we are unstoppable in our mud suits!

Watch out Amer, we take no prisoners.

Sigh, how beautiful. (PS. That is a very fullfilling sigh, as there is nearly 10% more oxygen at the Dead Sea)

The long days of travel came to and end with watching a glorious sunset over the sea. We were totally relaxed - for the moment that is - it took another 3 showers to finally get all that mud off!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amman Adventures

Since we weren't able to join our family and friends for Easter we decided to do the next best thing. Why not go to the holy land? Surely visiting the Promised Land would revive our spirits! So when our friend Amer invited us to his homeland for the weekend we knew we couldn't miss the opportunity.

On Thursday morning Lisa and I grabbed an early morning flight and met up with Matt who was already in Amman doing a few meetings. The first thing we couldn't help notice when we walked off the plane was the weather. It was cold! I'm told it's called "Spring", we've forgotten all about this four seasons business. The chill soon gave way to the same exhilaration we get every time we leave Dubai - flowers, and trees, and grass oh my! - the blue skies and puffy clouds had already made the trip worth it.

We didn't waste anytime hitting the streets and we met up with our guide Fadi to get a tour of the city. As we arrived on the citadel of the city to see the ancient ruins I couldn't help but think, what haven't the Romans concurred? There in the midst of this modern Arab city was a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheatre and the top of the city boasted remains from an ancient Roman Temple. Add to that the world's tallest flagpole and a few remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls and you've got yourself a vacation! We also found out that Amman used to be called Philadelphia by the Romans, no wonder we were liking this city!
Apparently North Korea actually has the tallest flagpole but it is supported by cables. That doesn't count!
In front of the old city looking down from the citadel
The remains of the Temple of Hercules, the two reconstructed columns have become synonymous with Amman
Playing amongst the ruinsThe 2,000 year old Roman amphitheatre right in the middle of the city!
Part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, pretty cool!
It took us forever to get to the top, those steps are steep!
No matter how far we travel we always use our Skype - hi JimDad!
Our host Amer at the Booz Allen pre-marathon dinner
We topped off the day with a total Arab feast complete with shisha, Lebanese wine, and of course a big helping of hummus.

That night we were fortunate enough to be invited to the home of one of Amer's coworkers. A number of the Booz Allen employees were running the Dead Sea marathon the next day and we were graciously invited to take part in the carbo-loading!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Biggest Shower in the World

$281 million, 900 feet long, 6600 lights, 25 color video projectors and lasers, and 22,000 gallons of water in the air at any given time. Towers of water that shoot up above a fifty story building, 500 feet above the lake below. Watery awesomeness.

You may know that it's the world's largest fountain, but did you know that it was also the world's largest fountain-naming contest? In true Dubai spirit - where some things are truly new, and other things are just really, REALLY big version of existing things - the top winner of the contest was DUBAI FOUNTAIN (you have to shout it, you know).

Nonetheless, this project has been a long time coming. Katie can attest to my obsession here - I've been watching them build it from the sand up for 8 months. Don't believe me? Just look at the boring pictures I have to prove it!
It's been really exciting over the past few weeks, where the fountain has been tested and is actually shooting water. Actual quote from Katie: "If you don't stop talking about that stupid fountain I'm going to punch you in the face." But it was worth the black eye!

Here are a few videos from the shows - they're running a few different versions, and each is set to different music from classical to spanish to arabic. I'll be sure to get more pictures and videos in the near future (they've just started testing the colored light shows), but don't worry, I won't post these for the next 8 months.

Shot from next to our apartment:

Shot in HD from the Dubai Mall on the other side of the lake (be sure to click the HD button!):

Monday, April 6, 2009


The word alegria means joyful in Spanish, and that is exactly how we left the Cirque du Soleil show on Saturday. What an amazing show! Matt and I are long time Cirque fans, having seen Ka, O, and the Beatles LOVE show between the two of us. We were thrilled when we saw the traveling production of Alegria was coming to Dubai and setting up at the Ibn Battuta mall. Matt secured tickets for their Saturday afternoon performance and off we went.

Wow. Just when you though those New Year’s resolutions to go the gym are paying off, you see the cast of this show! It’s stunning and so demotivating at the same time! Matt and I decided to split caramel popcorn as we watched the perfect human specimens on display. If you can’t join them, then umm…console yourself with popcorn. That’s what I always say. Matt and I decided to challenge the Atkins and South Beach diets of the world and just start marketing the Cirque du Soleil diet.

I think my research would go something like this: “Excuse me sir can you tell me how you keep so fit?” “Why yes, I spent 8 hours a day balancing all my body weight on the three fingers of my left hand while sitting 10 feet off the ground.” “Oh is that all? What a decidedly easy way to build that “core strength”!” Words escape just how amazing and cool these acts are, so lucky for me; I’ve found a number of videos that do the show justice:

I don’t even know what to say about these two. The entire time I watched this all I could think about is ‘what is going on inside?’ Seriously, where does your liver go?

This isn’t your standard Olympic floor routine! This woman ungulates like a snake. How many years of yoga does this take?

Matt tells me that this guy is impressive, but not nearly as good I want to think because he is using “low temperature fire”. Low temperature fire? What does that even mean, how low can you go?

I am not even sure what is more impressive the guys flipping, or the guys catching them? I can guess at who gets the bigger bruises. Those shoulders have to hurt.

They saved their most intense act for the end. It was great, but I couldn’t relax. By the time it was over I was the one sweating!

Ok, so now off to the gym, it's nice to have something to aspire to! (Of course a new Krispy Kreme just opened up next door, ah, choices, choices...)