30 April 2004

Exercise regime for high-rise dwellers

When living in a high-rise, make sure you keep fit.

We are still recovering from hiking down 31 floors of stairs a few days ago when we were woken in the morning by the emergency alarm. A sonorous voice told us that an incident had been detected in the building and that we should leave by the stairs. Great!

We grabbed the laptop and our passports and headed for the exit. Of course we hoped it was a false alarm, but feared it wasn't so we sped down the endless corridors of the staircase. When we arrived - breathless and anxious, but relieved that we hadn't encountered any smoke - at the bottom, we found that the water tank for the sprinklers had drained and had set off the alarm. Phew!

The next day we both felt crippled with muscle pain in two very specific areas of our thighs and calves. For most of the last week getting up or going up or down stairs has been agony. The lesson? Do that Stairmaster!

27 April 2004

A posh dinner

We were invited to a barbecue by one of Stuart's colleague's, a casual affair, we were told. Yeah, right.

So we went wearing trainers and baggy shirts only to find tables laden with silver and crystal, covered in white damask cloths in the garden.


Waiters with black bow ties and a chef with a crisp, tall white hat were greeting us with aperitifs and three long tables crammed with delicacies. So much for our expectation of a guy wearing shorts and a silly apron flipping burgers on a smoky grill.


22 April 2004

Making Bacon Sarnies

Being such a cosmopolitan city with dozens of nationalities coexisting makes for interesting situations. Take food, for example.

Making a bacon sarnie for lunch is one of the highlights of our weekends. When we decided whether to come here it was a worry that we would not be able to assemble all the ingredients. Nice squishy English white bread, brown sauce, free-range eggs and butter and the most problematic of all: bacon. Obviously we didn't think it was possible to buy pork products here, but we had heard that there are bacon replacements made from beef (a bit like tofu sausages for those veggies who can't live without bangers and mash).

How wrong we were:


Stuart is deciding which kind of bacon to buy from the shelves tucked away into the back of the local supermarket. With an entrance like a porn shop, you are not encouraged to buy there, and being seen to shop here marks one out as a definite unbeliever. If you can live with that, all the treasures from pate to smoky bacon-flavoured crisps are yours.

19 April 2004

Outdoor cinema

Last night we went to a showing of American Beauty at an outdoor cinema

The venue was great, on the roof of the Wafi shopping centre (requires Flash) surrounded by rooftop gardens, pools and bars. Wafi is a strangely fake and tacky place, all entrances are lined with Egyptian sculptures and pillars with hieroglyphic writings (all genuine fake, naturally). This gives an impression of very expensive kitsch, done with conviction.

The weather was balmy (of course), and the atmosphere relaxed. There was a stall selling popcorn and hot dogs, and the floor was strewn with huge beanbags for seating. All very civilised. There was even a waiter service.

Unfortunately movies are censored in dubai (as they are in the rest of the Gulf). Strangely the only editing we could see was for nudity, not for violence or bad language. This meant that the beautiful scenes with the rose petals were cut, but all the swearing was left in. This is going to take some getting used to.

18 April 2004

A visit to Al Sharjah

The UAE is a made up of 7 emirates and Al Sharjah is a small one located right next to Dubai along the coast. As it was the weekend, and we had no plans, we took a drive there.

Al Sharjah is considered something of a cultural centre of the UAE (named Arab Cultural Capital in 1998 by UNESCO) with a handful of museums to its name. It has also developed into a dormitory town for Dubai for all those who can't afford the high rents here. It has great potential with a huge amount of building work going on, specially along its lovely coastline. Unfortunately Sharjah's government is not keeping up, which means that many apartment blocks are empty for years for lack of an electricity connection. Today's Gulf News quotes the local electricity authority as saying that it "must keep to its schedule of growth and cannot make exceptions for new apartment buildings springing up regularly". In the meantime rents are increasing all the time.

We had no map and no plan, so we were surprised when we ended up at the Al Mahatah Museum of Aviation. From the outside it didn't look much, just a low-level block and a control tower surrounded by modern housing.


On the inside we discovered a gem of a museum housed in the old Sharjah airport building. There was a huge airy hangar with old passenger and cargo planes, some suspended from the ceiling; an exhibition of photos and equipment explaining the running of the airport and a great archive film of passenger air travel in the 30's. And strangely, an exhibition on the history of flight from the Museums of Wales!?!


The documentation was all very colonial and Tally-ho, old chap!, from when the Brits considered this part of the World desolate but strategically important. In those days it only took 4 days to get here from London, slightly less convenient than the morning flight on Emirates nowadays. Then, Sharjah was the main hub in the area, not Dubai or Abu Dhabi, as it was the biggest trading port. Sharjah still provides almost half the UAE's industrial production, but the banning of alcohol in the mid-90's meant that Dubai quickly overtook it as a tourism and conferencing destination.

15 April 2004

Anna goes home

This morning Anna left for Germany after a three week visit to help us move in and get settled. Fiver misses her already (Stuart would, if he was here).

It was great to have Anna here when we moved into the flat. She is an expert on house moves, having done it so many times herself, and she was there when everything was packed in Ipswich. I guess you could call it relocation tourism, following containers around the World.

When we gave Anna time off from unpacking, sorting and organising our possessions (she enjoyed it, really ;-) she followed her favourite occupation: going on the busses. In her first week we got a bus pass for her and a timetable, and off she went to criss-cross Dubai on public transport. According to her it was great, a cheap way to get around and a quick way to cool down on an air-conditioned bus when walking got too strenuous. The bus pass is pretty nifty, it works by loading money onto it and then swiping the card as you get on the bus, which takes off the right amount and gives you a paper ticket. This way there is no need for change or even knowing how much it is to get to where you want to go (not that bus travel is expensive, one trip is usually 1.25 Dirham, about 28 Eurocents or 18p). Anna mentioned that the busses are very frequent and out of rush hour not too busy (she regularly took the number 19 from Sheik Zayed Road to the bus station).

So when you get over here, public transport is obviously the way to get around - plus it means you can leave the responsibility for crazy driving to the bus driver.

The Expat Experience

Fiver took part in a writing workshop at Dubai Country Club today and had her first immersion into the local expat community.

Dubai Country Club (est. 1971) is a little slice of home for the British community in Dubai. Tea and biscuits, ladies in smart casuals with light jumpers draped around shoulders while outside the heat flickers. It's like sitting in a pub in Hassocks, Kent on a particularly warm summer day. Trophies sparkle in glass cases, the bar with roll-down shutters is lined with roll calls for 'Men's Golfer of the Year' and 'Mixed Foursomes'. The Ladies' changing rooms stock a stack of golf rule-books (this is famously the one golf course in Dubai without lawns. The player carried a small piece of astroturf to tee off from, the whole course being made of desert sand). The pin-board holds locker allocation and fixtures lists, procedural guidelines are propped next to the vase of fabric roses. The restaurant serves the best liver and onions with mash in the whole of Dubai, apparently.

12 April 2004

Team Capricorn

A few days ago you met the Fab Farnek Cleaners, today we present the Boys from Reception

These guys know everyone, even before we had moved in they were on hand to help us out. They keep a spare key, let in contractors and repair people, keep messages and mail. They have a cool trolley when we come through the door with a load of shopping, and best of all they are the masters of the video entrance system, so we can see who's at the door.


11 April 2004

A day on the beach

We were invited to Jumeirah Beach Club today for an Easter get together.

Stuart's colleague Mahmood with family and small son met us on the beach. The weather is very strange today, the windiest and cloudiest we have seen so far. An hour ago it even rained, although it was just a few drops hardly noticeable if it hadn't been for the splats on the car windscreen. For us English people this was of course nothing, but there will probably be a picture in the paper tomorrow about the terrible weather.


Proof that it really really rained

The club has a stretch of private beach, as have all the hotels in Dubai. There is actually very little public beach here, which means that it is impossible to go for long walks, unless one drives far out of town. No need for owning a dog, then. There is a small stretch of public beach, but it has no shade and it really too hot to spend the day any time other than mid-winter.


The beach at Jumeirah

The club also has a restaurant and showers and a pool, so it is easy to stay all day. Towels and loungers are provided, so we just hung out and relaxed. Because of the strong winds today there were some large breakers, which got the life guards a bit concerned. We were all herded into a certain stretch of beach so that they could keep an eye on us, nervously pacing the beach. We thought it was a bit over the top until we heard that 3 people had drowned in the breakers yesterday while swimming. A sobering reminder of the power of the waves.

10 April 2004

A day in the country

The Range Rover gets some exercise at last.

Since we arrived in Dubai we have not really ventured far outside the city. However, this weekend we took Fiver's mum with us and went to one of the most well know tourist attractions in the UAE - Hatta Pools. This is an area which is part of one the many Wadis (usually dry river beds) that are common in the mountains to the South East of Dubai.

We drove out of Dubai on one of the fine multi-lane highways are far as the sleepy town of Hatta, about one hundred kilometres away. The mountains start about 20 kilometres from Hatta.

A Desert Panorama

From our trip to Hatta pools - you will need Quicktime to view the picture (oh, and it's 480KB, so only for the dedicated dialer-uppers and broadbanders).

We drove up to the side of a quarry to get this view. the map said it would be possible to hike to the top of the mountain from there, but it was hot and we were a little discouraged by the 'Danger! Detonation!' signs (even though it was the weekend).

09 April 2004

The cleaners in all their Glory

Without these guys the place would be a tip.


Hooray for the cleaner guys!

08 April 2004

small blog improvement

If we may direct your attention to the right column of the page, you will see the newly added Quick Links section. From there you can go to our picture page, as well as some other places: Matthias (Fiver's brother) has started a blog to document his move to Weener in the North of Germany, have a look. Every now and then we may add other sites, let us know about yours.

Matthias (Fiver's brother) has started a blog to document his move to Weener in the North of Germany, have a look. Every now and then we may add other sites, let us know about yours.

05 April 2004

Mirrorball Camel

Oh, no, not another camel!

But this is special, really. The last of the camels are displayed at Dubai Internet City, the free zone that houses Oracle, MS, Canon, IBM, all that. This one has replaced my previous favourite. It is just too glittery.

(Dedicated to Jason and all things glitterball)


04 April 2004

Hygiene is King!

This is a clean place! There is wiping and polishing and mopping and hoovering and sweeping going on here at all times.

On the occasion of the first visit from the cleaners here are some observations on cleanliness in Dubai (and hot climates in general?).

When our belongings were unpacked, we found that we had imported a huge amount of Ipswich dust. Luckily Crown sent us a cleaner as part of their excellent relocation service. A young lady spent 4 hours hoovering and wiping to make the place spotless. Anna was most impressed with the fact that when she was finished she went around every room again to check that she hadn't missed anything.

The company who provides our porter service also does cleaning, so we signed up for a twice-weekly service. We were expecting a similar thing to the Crown cleaner, but instead found 5 guys at the door last Thursday. They blitzed the place with mops and dusters, cleaning the bathrooms, straightening the furniture and polishing the glass table tops. Every room we went to to escape the cleaning rush we got in the way of some other busy person. Incredible!

Dubai's buildings seem to be designed to make window cleaning necessary but difficult. There are creative uses of glass sheeting, with strange angles and hard-to-get-to corners. Still we regularly see guys in baskets hanging off cranes to wash the windows. The other day we walked into the living room to see them disappearing down the outside walls.