Monday, June 16, 2008

Switzerland and Beyond

Currently in London. Catherine's flight from Toronto was majorly delayed due to severe thunderstorms so we have had to alter our lans somewhat. We have decided to nix the dublin excursion and stay in London and do it up right. Cath arrives tonight at 10pm, we overnight at Yotel Heathrow and set out tomorrow.


Dave and I covered a lot of ground in Greece and Turkey. We saw some amazing sights and met lots of backpackers along the way. I think I covered most of the highlighs in past posts, but the Hammam (Turkish Baths) are worth a mention. We decided to do this in Goreme, Cappadocia. So, first you take a sauna. Hot as hell. Then you lie on this very hot slab of marble...and I mean hot! It was only after lying there like a piece of raw meat, that I noticed you can douce yourself with cool water. What a relief. Then a very large, burly Turkish man beckons you to his cubicle where he assaults you with hot water, cold water, suds, and gives you many goings over, scrubbing you like you have never been scrubbed before. There's a lot of massaging, well pumelling, bordering on beating. A few neck cracks etc and you are done with the assault, but squeaky clean and surprisingly quite refreshed. Then we moved to the pool where Dave and I compared notes. A refreshing juice later on a lawn chair and the one of a kind experience was done.

Greece was great too. We missed our bus to Delphi so spent some time at the archealogical museum and went to Olympia (home of the anchient Olympic games). It was a beautiful site in a very small but picturesque town. The next day we returned to
athens where we said our goodbyes. Dave was off to theGreek Islands and I to
switzerland. I worried about Dave on his own probably more than Pam did. I was happy to hear via Faceook that he arrived safely. Similar to Colin and
sarah MIA for two hours in Dubai, if I had kids I would be in Unit 9 from worry.

Switzerland was stunningly beautiful. There were about 40 on our tour ..Americans, Brits, Welsh, Aussies, Kiwis, Indian, Korean, Malaysian and evenIcelandic. I was great hearing about everyone'shome country. I was the only Canadian.

We started the tour last sunday and our first stop was a small Alpine Village.
eing Sunday, church bells were ringing throughout the valley, echoeing off the green rolling hills, only interupted by the clanging of cowbells. In the distance we could see the Alps. This was Switzerland!

We covered a lot of territry in 9 days. We even popped into the small principality of Lichenstein, governed by a prince. His family bought the territory several hundred years ago ..long story..and is now one of the smallet countries in the world. Another bonus was that we popped into Italy several times. Language and currency were always a challenge as switz. did not join the EU so is on the Franc while Italy is on the Euro.

Swizerland is truly multilingual with four official languages. It was wild because in the a.m. you could be in a completely German part,later Ialian, and evening French.

Our guide Fiorenza was from the Italianpart of Switz. and she was fantastic. She showed us it all...Alps, waterfalls, rolling countryhills, castles, rivers, and glaciers. We saw sun, rain, snow and even hail. We were in the Alps as high as 10,000 feet, but we were also in subtroical areas such as Lake Como and Lake Lugano (which they call the Swiss Riviera).

The entire country is going nuts as they are cohosting with
austria the Euro Football event.
bye or now

Friday, May 30, 2008

How I Spent My Birthday - by Mr. Terry

It started May 29 at 12:02 a.m. on a bus in central Turkey when I encoutered a hand reaching from behind me to shake my hand. It was Daan, a Dutch guy we met at our Cave hostel in Cappadocia. Yes, we slept in a cave, but that is another story. Daan was contratulating me on my birthday. I looked at the clock at the front of the bus, and indeed, it was my birthday. Dave too offered congratulations. I think I would have let a good hour slip by before I really realized that it was officially my birthday.
We had been on the bus for two hours. It was ten more hours to Oludeniz where we would be paragliding. We left Goreme at 10PM. Goreme was indescribably gorgeous. It was out of this world. It is full of these stone houses carved out of the mountains and hills, fairy chimneys, and all sorts of madness craeated by volcanoes and millions of years of erosion. Just google Cappadocia for photos and explanation.
On our first night in the cave there was a thunderstorm! So, we are in a cave, with the call to prayer bellowing, and a thunderstorm rolling in. It was magical. We spent three days in total hiking and hanging out with other backpackers. We flew into Cappadocia from Istanbul. I say flew in, but as Dave describes it, the pilot basically just dropped the plane on the runway. It was a pretty sketchy landing. Istanbul was great and we were back for one night last night and we return tomorrow night to fly to Athens the next day. We have been covering a lot of ground.
So, back to May 29. The overnight bus ride was remarkably comfortable for an 8 hour bus ride. A couple of Gravol and I managed two or three hours sleep. I remarked to Dave that I was awake for about 21 hours of my birthday. Gotta get your money's worth!
We arrived in Atalya at 8am and changed to a mini bus to continue to Fetiye. This was a hilariously authentic bus ride. Just Dave and I and one Belgian lady among swarthy Turkish men, plump women with kerchiefs and little old men hunched over with canes. It was a real milk run. It went on forever through the hills of Southern Turkey.
We finally arrived in Fetiye buy still had to get ourselves to Oludeniz for birthday paragliding. Of course we were swarmed by taxi drivers. Being a bit tired after the 10, no 12, hour bus ride, I opted for the easy taxi mode to travel the 30 minutes to Oludeniz.
We arrived, checked in with Nicolet, who I have been emailing back and forth for two or three weeks now, and decided we would go for a swim in the beautiful blue Mediterannean in lieu of a shower as we were just in Olundeniz for the day and had no hostel as we flew to Istanbul later that night.
As we sat on the beach we could see the paragliders soaring and landing within feet of where we were sitting and finally the time had come!!!
We signed the standard "if you die it is not our fault" form and got in the jeep for the 40 minute climb up the mountain, stopping to give a lift to locals who were down in the valley doing their shopping. Pretty hilarious.
The view was spectacular and I pointed out to Dave the lower clouds which were basically at our eye level. 6000 feet. The place where other paragliders were taking off did not seem to to suit our guys, so we continued to the absolute top of the mountain.
Dave was first to go. So...basically you have a guy strapped on your back and they tell you to run like hell off the cliff and keep running even if you are in the air or you will just drop. Nice.
Dave did it like a pro.
My 'co-pilot' was Onur. He was quite the cat. We had to wait about 10 minutes, standing there with 6000 feet below us, for a good breeze. The only time I was even a tiny bit nervous, and I wouldn't even call it that, was standing there because of the delay.
I heard, "Terry, are you ready?". I said hell ya, and Onur said, "Then, run like hell, Terry". So I did.
I can't describe the feeling. It was surreal. Almost like being in a movie. You are just hanging in mid-air. You are so high, you don't think you are even moving. There is no sight of the chute above you. It was incredible.
Onur and I chit-chatted a bit, got each other's life story. He has a degree in psychology and a masters in economics, but he does this 6 months a year and travels the other 6 months. We kinda bonded. I told him it was my birthday and that is when things got really interesting.
He took off my helmet (Later when Nicolet was looking at the photos she said, "Terry....where the hell is your helmet?". I guess Onur wasn't supposed to do that) so that the photos and video he was doing while flying would be better. Then he said, "Terry, would you like to fly it". Obviously I said yes and he gave me a quick lesson and I was flying! Then, I got a bit bored and told him I was going to do a big 360 turn. I guess Onur figured I had some life in me and asked, "Terry, should we do some tricks?" I replied, "Funny you should say that Onur, I was just going to ask if we could take this up a notch." Well, that we did. He handed me the video camera, grabbed the strings and it was a circus ride from hell - all while Onur sang me Happy Birthday. I have no idea what we were doing, but Dave watched from the ground and said we were upside down. I just about lost my lunch. It was intense as hell, I screamed with joy (and a little fear) and finally it tamed down and we started our landing. A perfect landing.

And that is how I spent my birthday.

Dave and I caught the evening flight to Istanbul. Had to tell the cab driver how to get to the FRIGGIN BLUE MOSQUE - hello and got to bed around 1:30 a.m.

I don't know if I will get a chance to write about other happenings. Being bathed by a burly Turkish man at a Hammam was quite the experience. Hiking in valleys where you see hardly anyone else, being 8 levels below the surface in an underground city was the bee's knees. It goes on and on.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Final Post from the Villa

'Trips don't end when we return home - in a sense it's when they usually begin.' - Agnes E. Benedict.
Things are winding down here. We said another farewell to Ashley last night as she left to catch her 2:30a.m. flight back to Canada. The Matthelows and Rea leave tonight and then Dave and I leave tomorrow a.m. for our adventure in Turkey.

We are all mellow at the villa, packing, hanging out etc. Aaron and jon have gone down to the souks for some last minute shopping.

I'm not sure if I will be able to do many, or any posts from the road in Turkey, Greece, Switzerland and the UK. Thanks to everyone who has kept up to date with the goings on here and I hope you enjoyed villa life from afar.

'I haven't a clue as to where my story will end. But that's alright. When you set out on a journey and night covers the road, that's when you discover the stars.' - Nancy Willard

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Birthday





The camera-shy Jason.













The Month Long Birthday

Dave and Jason PS3 Boxing: Jason had a big comeback in recent days: Won three in a row, but latest game Dave won. So total to date: 3:2 for Jason. Dave just reminded me that 'they have all been close games'.



Jason's cake.


The villa gang's cake


An Emotional Day

It has been quite a day, full of tears - but the good kind. Today we had tea at the Burj Al Arab. Although it was my third visit (twice this trip and once last year) I am still overwhelmed by the experience we have there. Each time, the experience is shared with different friends and that makes it even more special. Wendy wrote a wonderful post about our tea experience, but I wanted to expand on the emotion of it all. When the Catherine Zeta-Jones look-a-like piano player started playing (right beside us), we all became a little quiet and intro-spective. Someone got a little teary-eyed and that set us all off (maybe it's the heat). Rea, hoping to lighten the moment, asked us to raise our glasses to toast our moms. Well, that really got us going. I started to cry even more, trying to get out 'I'm crying...because....today..is...Sarah's...Mom's birthday.' This really started Sarah, then I went to pieces and had to excuse myself. Don't get me wrong. It was a wonderful toast. Very appropriate and Rea didn't even know that it was Sarah's mom's birthday (who passed away a few years ago). It was all meant to happen.

Just a few hours ago I was surprised (well, not really, not easy to get something by me) by a birthday cake from the gang. The dining room table was festooned with Canadian flags and red and white. I was surprised, however, that there was not one, but two birthday cakes. Jason had gotten me a cake too! I was very touched. The gang did manage to surprise me with some lovely gifts. These month long birthdays are the best thing ever as I think back to the many friends, gifts, champagne bottles, cakes, meals...

Another great moment to the day was that Dave and Ashley babysat Finn so the Matthelows could enjoy their Burj experience. We called two or three times and all was well. When I returned home, Dave and Ashley were playing beach ball with Finn in the living room, Dave gave Finn airplane rides, and they just did a lot of chatting. Pam and Bob, Graham and Marilyn -you have raised two wonderful kids and you should be very proud of them. I must say that Dave does have a bit of a dark side. He has taught Finn (2 1/2 years old) to roll dice and shout out 'Daddy needs a new pair of shoes', or 'Snake Eyes', or 'Box Cars!'. This cracks Jason up.

That's it for now. Our time grows short. Dave and I are busy planning our next adventure to Turkey and Greece. In just a couple hours we will say farewell to Ms. Wendy. There is no end to the emotion.

The Burj Al Arab

Today, we went to the Burj Al Arab for afternoon tea. For those not familiar with it, it is a self proclaimed 7 star hotel here in Dubai, pretty much the nicest hotel in the world. You cannot enter the hotel without a reservation of some sort, either food or room. So, we made a reservation for the Indulgent 7 course afternoon tea. Not cheap, but pretty much as cheap as it gets at the Burj. So after about 15 minutes of oohing and ahhing in the lobby, we headed to the tea room. It was on the mezzanine level, overlooking the coolest fountain in the world.

We were promptly shown to our table, beautifully set with crystal and and sterling silver. We were seated on couches and comfy chairs. The hostess expained a little about the tea and where to find the washrooms, and then came back with cool, scented handcloths that had some kind of wnderful lotion in them that made your hands soft and wonderful. The menus arrived, and she then explained the champagne.

The menu consisted of 10 -20 teas to choose from, and several coffees and espressos. We ordered our tea, then the champagne (Moet & Chandon) arrived. We each got a glass (except Aaron, of course, who had sparkling juice). Finger sandwiches arrived, which there were 8 different kinds. (tuna, chicken cucumber, roast beef, egg, prawn, salmon and zucchini). Just a bit of advice - if you ever find yourself having this meal DO NOT get more snadwiches. there are still 6 courses to go and you will be very full!

Next came a salmon dish. It was the size of an appetizer, really. It was salmon wellington with spinach and a mango sauce. YUMM! After that, the smoking sorbet arrived. It was strawberry sorbet, served in a small, cone like dish, that was resting in a small fishbowl like dish. The fishbowl was filled with red liquid, into which they had put a small C02 pellet, which created smoke underneath the sorbet. Very cool.

At this point in the meal, a piano player arrived (who looked remarkably like Catherine Zeta-Jones) and began playing a grand piano that was right beside us. Several members of our party became somewhat emotional and overwhelmed by the moment. It was quite something.

Our tea then arrived, served individually in Sterling silver tea pots with steamed milk, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, 5 kinds of sugar and chocolate shavings on the side. Soon after tea came the scones with clotted cream and preserves.

Next came the fresh berry basket. It was an edible biscuit basket with fresh berries and cream in it. At this point we are getting pretty full, but soldiering on as there are two more courses to go.

The final two courses arrived together, a wheel of petit fours and chocolates, and a tray of french pastries! Yum.

All delicious.

Between each course, our silverware and plateware was removed and replaced with the appropriate ones for the next course. We had no less than 4 servers throughout the experience, which took well over 2 hours. It was delightful!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Latest from the Palm



Hi!
It has been a few days since the last post, so I thought I would update it while there are a few extra minutes. It has been action packed here at the Villa. On Monday, Dave and Ashley returned to the villa after a visit to Egypt. So, we are currently at 9 people here, a record according to mr. Terry. We are having a great time, but having trouble keeping the fridge full! So, on Monday, Rea, myself, Jon and Aaron went on the Oman trip. WOW! I will keep description to a minimum, as most people reading this have either already been on the trip or have already read about it at least. It was an amazing day though, one of the best ever. We did get to see a baby dolphin, which was unusual and pretty much the highlight of the day.

Tuesday was a quieter villa day, a few of us went shopping. Mr. Terry and several others got a chance to meet a few of the neighbors and spent some time in the frond getting to know them. They were great fun, quite some characters around here.

We then got all cleaned up and dressed and went for an evening out at the ice bar. It was something else, 7 Canadians standing in a freezing cold room with parkas and gloves on! It was a great outing though, we all really enjoyed it. I hope to be able to figure out how to post pictures on here, cause we got some great ones over the past few days.

Today was Wild Wadi day for Jon, Aaron, myself and Terry. Great fun, but really folks, Speedos? Really, if you think you look good in one, I guarantee you look better in any other bathing suit! I am very red and tired.

Tomorrow is our big outing to the Burj Al Arab for tea. Then it is home for me :(

Saturday, May 17, 2008

One of my favourite photos of the trip! Mr. Dave.


Asiwald and Bernie

Bernie and Asiwald - too fast to capture a good image.



This is either Asiwald or Bernie; the next door neighbour's dog.

Overheard on the Frond

Wendy, Aaron and I were kayaking today and a nice lady paddled over to us to say hi. She then said, "Are you the guy who is here for a month will all the guests visiting?". "Yes, indeedy." I replied. I guess word travels fast on the Palm. 'Trish' is from Vancouver Island. She lives two villas over and is good friends with Andy, my villa owner, so that is where she got the scoop. She runs and internet based business. She had been taking a year off, but when everyone in Dubai asked her what she did - a weight loss patch - she was hounded for orders, so went back up and running.

Sarah, Jon, Wendy, Aaron and Rea went to the souks tonight. Jason was going down there to mail a package home to Manila so he kindly offered to drive them. They decided to go in the evening as it is much cooler (just checked the temp -33 degrees at 8:15PM - I guess it is all relative.

I am happily babysitting Finn and catching up on the financial markets. Finn is in her bed singing to herself!

Tomorrow Jon, Aaron, Wendy and Rea go on the Oman excursion that some others, including me, have done. We tried to book our friend Yousef, but he was unavailable and the booking agent said Mohamed was "just as nice".

Today I decided to learn a little Nepalese to make S.P. feel at home. I got a big grin when I said "Nameste, S.P., tapain-lai kasto-chha". Basically, "Peace to you, S.P., how are you?". Today, S.P. brought another worker-bee with him. Equally as friendly, happy, and efficient as S.P.! Everything is right in my world as all toileteries have been arranged by size/category.

Once again Jason has enquired, "When does Mr. Dave come? I have to beat him in boxing". I assured him that Dave would return and he could win back his honour. Dave, do you have it in you to let him win??

Yesterday we went to the Mall of the Emirates...again. It's an easy fall-back and always entertaining. We did a big grocery shop. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is one of my favourite things to do when travelling. You can interact with the locals, and tourists, and the expats, not to mention see a stunning variety of crazy stuff on the shells. We go to the Carrefour which is about three or four times the size of an average Superstore. We made a pit-stop at Virgin Mega store to buy a copy of one of my favourite movies, "Death at a Funeral". It was a great change of pace and a good laugh. I highly recommend it.

Salam.

A few Days in the Sun

Hello All! Wendy here again! It has been a lazy few days at the villa. The Mathelows arrived late, late Thursday night. After the tour and the midnight snack, some went to bed, some decided to stay up for sunrise. Regardless, we all slept in till noonish on Friday. There was a small mishap with my bathing suit in the morning, but Terry came up with some garden wire and we fixed it right up! We spent the afternoon in the frond, the pool, the kayak, back to the pool, then the frond, then the pool.. you get the idea.

We needed a few things at the store, so a few of us ventured off to the supermarket. Now, as most know, the supermarket is at the Mall of the Emerates, so we decided to take an hour and wander around. There was a lovely mariachi mexican band playing in the courtyard. It was Friday now, and that is the weekend here. This meant that the mall was packed with people. But we got through the crowds, got some groceries and made it back to the villa.

Today was another lazy day involving the pool, the frond, the kayak etc. We had a visit from Asiwad and Bernie, the Shiitzus from next door. They are very friendly, their owners, not so much. We are off to the souks this evening, and the day trip to Oman is tomorrow!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Frond Traffic


We were all sitting down to an early dinner and this floated by - everyone jumped for cameras!

Serendipidy



So, I am sitting here in the villa doing some blog maintenance and find this draft! I guess Deidre started to upload from Egypt. I HAD to publish. Go, Deidre!

Wendy's first blog post!

Hello! Rea and I have been here in the lovely Dubai for a few days. We arrrived late on Tuesday after a long but relaxing trip here. We have been thoroughly enjoying all that Villa 29, Frond E has to offer. We went to the mall yestereday, which Sarah already spoke of. We came home and had a lovely dinner and retired early.

Today, we woke up early and went to the Jumeira Mosque. They offer a tour and an explanation of the Muslim faith. It was quite interesting, very peaceful, and I got to wear an Abaya. We then hit the local Starbucks for ice Coffee refreshments (yes, there are starbucks everywhere here too). As it was 40 degrees celcius today, and of course sunny, we opted not to go down to the old Souks. Yeah, we are wimps! So, we went to what I call the "fake souk", which is actually called the Madinat Jumeira. It is actually a hotel complex with 875 rooms, and a full indoor souk (or at least stalls designed to look like a souk). The prices were fairly reasonable, and there was great selection. We bought jewellry, pashmina scarves and a variety of things. The complex also has a fantastic collection of restaurants. We chose a persian restaurant, and had a fantastic lunch of beef kebobs and saffron prawns. Rea took a shot at making pita bread as well. We then took an abra ride around the canals. This hotel is created over an inlet of the persian gulf, so that all the rooms are only accessable by boat. So any guests of the hotel take the abras anywhere they have to go. We took the tour, about 15 minutes, through the canals. It was lovely and I got some great photos (I will post them if I figure out how to).

We then jumped in a cab, came home to villa 29, greeted by our gracious host at the door. We showed Terry all of our purchases, had a cold beer, then jumped in the water. We went for the frond first (man, you can sure float easily in the Pursian Gulf). We then randomly opened a bottle of champagne (completing one of my "10 things to do before I die) and had champagne and lays potato chips. A nice walk around the frond judging all the other gardens (ours wins!)was followed by a jump in the pool. All in all a great day. Terry is grilling us some burgers, as we prepare for the arrival of the Mathelows this evening.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Last Day in Dubai :(

The day has finally arrived. Sad, yes, but also happy to heading back home. Today was another relaxing day. Started the day with a lovely swim and then breakfast--made by Terry. It was delicious. Was also introduced to Wendy and Rea--two of Terry's friends who just arrived the night before. After breakfast everyone headed to the frond for a swim. It was followed by a relaxing "cool down" in the pool.

We all got cleaned up and decided to travel to another mall called Ibn Battuta. It was very different from the mall of the emirates. More relaxed and less ppl. There were different sections in the mall with designs/structure of different countries like China, India and Persia (to name some). Colin and I split from the group and Terry told us to meet back at the entrance at 5:45 (the time I heard) or 5:15 (the time colin heard). More about that later.

Made some lovely purchases, got some food andwalked around the mall admiring the shops and the design of the mall.

Colin and I--not sure exactly what time we were supposed to meet--since we had different times--made our way to an ice cream place which was near the entrance around 5:10. Little did we know that Terry and the rest of the crew actually said to meet at 4:45. Anyways, we ended up missing Terry by a few minutes. We hung around the mall for a little bit to make sure they weren't just running late and then we left via taxi. Upon our arrival Terry greeted us (a little concerned I think) and said "this is why I should never have kids". Terry it wasn't your fault. Colin with his "swimmer ears"and me, well, I guess I don't hear that well so don't worry hahaha.
Good night Dubai!!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Finally caught the little guy. Set him free to the great outdoors.


Souks--call to prayer

video

Our Hero, S.P.

I may have written about S.P. in previous posts; I am too lazy to look. However, S.P. does warrant his very own post. He is just that great.

I first met S.P. early on in the villa stay during the day of the many brown men (remember the 5 plumbers to fix the leaky tap). The door phone/camera thingy rang for the fifth time, Jason was out, so I opened the door to find a young man standing there saying, "I am with cleaning service". We still hadn't reached our villa quota of 20 brown guys - the pool guys were on their way out, and all the plumbers were in Deidre and Dave's room, so threw caution to the wind and invited him in. He took of his shoes and socks, placed them with all the others on the doorstep (it looked like a mosque) and he quietly did his thing.

When I say quietly, I mean like a feather in the wind. I thought Jason was discreet. At this point I really had no idea what S.P. was here for. Jason seemed to have a handle on maintaining the household. My first clue that we were in the luxury cleaning stratosphere was when I went up stairs and all the carpets were rolled up and S.P. was mopping the floors. I don't know about the rest of you, but rugs serve an alternative purpose in my house - what is swept under, cannot be seen - but not S.P. Then I caught him polishing all the light switches. Geeze, S.P.

Then as quickly as he came he was gone. When I went into my room I noticed that it had been straighted up military style. My mishmash of books, papers, etc. were all placed in neat little piles - everything in its place. Then there was the bathroom. You will recall from previous posts that my bathroom is rather large. There is a good two metres of counter space with two sinks (stranglely I find myself on occassion running both sinks at once). Fortunately I brought enough toileteries, gels, hairspray, lotions, sunscreen, shaving products, medications, etc. to cover the entire two metres. Putting this all in fine order was not too big a task - not for S.P. Everything was neatly arranged. Sunscreens in one spot, hair care in another, and on and on. That evening it took me 10 minutes to find my electric tootbrush. Of course, it was there. S.P. had stood it up neatly next two my tooth paste collection. I just wasn't accustomed to seeing it standing up. He zipped up my toiletry case and stood it preciseely at the the end of the counter.

S.P. seems to appear every two days. Fine by me. One of last week's couples had one of those trademark S.P. moments. When they arrived they dumped the contents of their backpacks on the floor, intending to deal with it later that day. They went out. When they returned they were partly devastated, partly thrilled that S.P. had folded and put away the entire contents of their backpacks! This has continued to occur. A stray shirt, a pair of socks...S.P. folds neatly and put away.

S.P. is Nepalese. I can't imagine what a contrast Dubai is to the rural, mountainous zen of Nepal. Yesterday I wrote a card, inserted a postcard with a big Canadian flag, and 100 dhm. It is so little to us in the West ($30), but would be about the equivalent of two week's pay from what I can figure (at dinner with Daryl, he said that servers at the 7 star Burj make about 900 dhm a month, plus tips), so figure the cleaners make considerably less.

The sort of sad thing that I have noticed is that every two days the 'cleaner bus' arrives on the fronds, dropping off its brown human cargo at each villa, going up and down the fronds. Five hours later, it returns, picking up the workers at each frond. I guess this is how the world works in these parts and I suppose we shouldn't judge. I try not to think where S.P. and the others go at night. If I knew, I'd go and fold his laundry.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Colin of Arabia

Yet another sunny day in the United Arab Emirates. Today marks the first day I didn''t leave the Palm Jumeirah. I am actually quite relieved after almost dying approximately 5 times last night.

Yesterday started with a visit to the Jumeirah Mosque (I have now officially gone to mosque more than church in 2008) and we continued to visit the souks once again. I had the intention of purchasing a lady Rolex for my mother and with the expertise of Mr. Terry, we haggled him down to a very acceptable price. I will not disclose the terms.

After the souks we decided to play in the pool, well I decided to play in the pool, others decided to merely sit in the pool. We were expecting our desert safari driver to arrive between 2 and 4. That was a little bit vague so later on they said between 330 and 4.

245 rolled along and we were still in the pool when Jason came to say our driver had arrived. It was pretty much Home Alone style from then on as we were in a panic to get ready. We took an impressive 10 minutes and were heading out the door, forgetting only a water bottle. I noticed a dark man lying on the floor when I was running up the stairs but I was in too much of a hurry to ask questions. Kelly found him and luckily he was our driver, not some stray mooching the villa. We were all short of breath as he said we didn't have to leave for another 25 minutes. Since we were too scared to go into the fun room where he lay quite comfortably, we all went to the patio. Our driver, Mustapha came to tell us when he was ready.

It was another ridiculously fast drive. Mustapha kept saying things to me and I had no idea what my Pakistani friend was trying to say so a polite smile and nod was appropriate. We reached the Middle Eastern version of Ken's corner. Many shifty eyed men, filthy washrooms and extremely overpriced snacks were enough to make us want to leave. Let alone the man who put a bird on us and tried to make us pay 10 Dirham (3 dollars) each for holding a stupid little bird that we didn't even want to hold. We refused to pay and wanted to leave but our big driver was chowing down with some ice cream in the back so we got in the truck with birdman following us, saying something, all I heard were groans and his eyes seemed to be wondering(Leg 1 of near-death experience). As we were leaving, Mustapha furiously beeped the horn and some of his co-workers were yelling some language at him and they decided to twist the Toyota ornament on the front of the truck, bend the side mirrors and mess up the windshield wipers. He stormed away from his co-worker/enemy and we got out alive (Leg 2 of near-death experience.)

We were all in bad humour as Mustapha began to blare his Indian music and made sure we all had our seatbelts. His fast driving continued (Leg 3 of near-death experience) and then came the desert. It never occured to me what "dune-bashing" was until we took the truck over the dunes and were flung around like ragdolls despite having seatbelts on. This caught us all by surprise and pardon my french but it scared the shit out of us. Sarah tried to videotape it and all you could hear in the tape was very loud Indian music and a series of "We're gonna die!", mainly by Katie. We came to a stop (Leg 4 of near-death experience) and I glanced at the outside temperature. 50 degrees celsius. We were outside looking around and taking pictures and it was 50 degrees. Meanwhile to our surprise, Mustapha was playing hero by helping his stuck co-worker/enemy as his truck was buried in sand (Ya see what happens when ya screw around?). We got out of the heat (Leg 5 of near-death experience) and continued our dune-bashing. We were flying all over the place, smacking heads, holding on for dear life and still screaming "We're gonna die". We had actually become accustomed to it.

After our drive, we began camel riding and then a belly-dancing show. So the intensity eased off. We had a barbecue and crap-etizers. I still don't know what I ate. Perhaps that could have killed me too. Maybe we will say 6 near-death experiences. All I know is, there was a lot of sand and possible other things in all of our knickers at the end of that evening.

Dinner With Daryl

It has been a busy week of comings and goings at Villa 29, Frond E. We said farewell to Lynda. We said farewell to Deidre. We said farewell to FX and Kathy. My farewell to Ashley and Dave was a temporary farewell as they will be returning to the villa for a few days. Ashley will fly back to Canada following a few days at the villa, but Dave and I are heading to Turkey and Greece. We have booked a paragliding flight in Turkey for my birthday! After saying adieu to Dave in Greece, I will fly to Zurich for a one week tour of Switzerland and then meet up with Catherine in the UK. We will fly immediately to Ireland for a few days and then return to England for a few days.
The gang went on a desert safari. I won't userp their report, letting Mr. Colin tell you about it, but it was quite an adventure. In usual Middle Eastern style, the adventure started before they even left the villa. The driver arrived about 45 minutes early. Jason informed of us his arrival and the gang rushed to get ready. As they ran outside to load into the white 4X4, they noticed the driver lying on our entertainment room floor. It was a bit creepy. He remained there for about 30 to 40 minutes.
Wild Wadi was amazing. I did most of the 'rides' except the Jumeirah Skeirah which is a plume that drops you at 80 km/h. Major wedgies! I will do it next time when I go with the next group of visitors to the villa. I also passed on the two surfing/body boarding rides.
www.wildwadi.com
Today for the first time I did a beach walk around Frond E. I left the villa, rounded the tip of the frond and walked along the north side. It was lovely. The view of Atlantis was amazing. www.atlantisthepalm.com
There are actually two cement plants on the crescent which shelters the fronds from the Arabian Gulf. These will be dismantled and are just there during the construction phase. There was a also a large ferry boat docked at the Atlantis. I suspect this is being used to transport some sort of industrial products for the construction phase, or perhaps even to house the workers?
A few nights ago we invited a friend of Kathy's over for a a BBQ. Daryl lives on the Palm, in the Shoreline Apartments on the trunk of The Palm.
He works for the Swedish telecommunications company, Sony Erikson, and has been here a year. It was fascinating to here an expat's view of Dubai, the UAE, and life here along with all its quirks.
I won't publish on the Net for all to know what he is paying in rent, but it is quite exhorbidant. Although he noted that it would be about what he pays in taxes in the UK. Rents here are very high and going higher. Every day there are letters to the Editor in the Gulf News about the increasing cost of living here. Daryl noted that the local Emiratis that work in government just received a 70% pay increase. Nice for some!
We chatted about the ridiculous drivers here in the Middle East. Daryl noted married Emirati women need a letter of permission from their husbands saying that they are allowed to drive. He said that even expat women need the same from their husbands!
FX and Kathy told of the harrowing drive back from their diving expedition in Oman. They caught a ride back with two Moroccan workers they met on the dive. Following a couple cans of beers, they sped up to 190 km/h back to Dubai. Drinking and driving is about the worst thing you can do here and there is zero tolerance. None of this .08 like back home. Any hint of drugs and alcohol in your system and you will be jailed, fined like you have never been fined, and probably deported. You would hope for deportation over jail.
Every day there are stories in the newspaper about drinking and driving. One Indian man was fined, jailed, and then deported for opening his car door in a parking lot and dinging the car next to him. He had alcohol in his system. If you injur or kill anyone while drink driving, forget it. The usual jail or deportation, but you must pay 'blood money' to the injured or family of the deceased. One man was made to pay 200,000 dhm ($60,000 CDN) to the family of a woman he killed. To an Asian worker, this is an absolute fortune. They remain in jail until they come up with the money.
Today we are lazing about the villa. A day off. We visited the Mosque and Souks yesterday and I helped Colin negotiate a favourable price on a souvenir. Can't go into details as recipient of said souvenir may be reading.
Kelly and Katie are going to tea at the Burj Al Arab this afternoon and I will get dropped off at the Mall of the Emirates to do a grocery shop in anticipation of the next group's arrival.
Bye for now and hello to all from all of us in Dubai.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Ice-Women Cometh (written by Ms. Kelly)










Katie and I decided to venture out on the Friday night, known as weekend here in Dubai, as we had slept all day.There was an icebar that we heard about that sparked our interest. Upon arriving we were sat down and given winter dress. Geared up in our booties, parka, and gloves we were ready to enter the ice bar. Upon entering, at first we were amazed by the beauty of it all. We sat down and the bar lit up with glowing colours and Americanized music. We were having a great time taking pictures and sipping on our juices in ice glasses. Then the greatest thing happened-local boys came in! First of all, they looked very funny in robes and parkas. They kept coming until there was about twenty of them all running around with excitment. It was about a cool minus six, not to0 cold for Canadians like ourselfs, but cold for the locals who are used to high thirties!
These boys were so excited and took more pictures than I think I have in my life (anyone who knows me knows I love my camera!) We wanted to take some pictures of them but were shy in asking. So we decided to take pictures of ourselves with them in the background, or pretend to take pictures of random things in the bar. While doing this, one of them asked if we wanted him to take our picture. Something funny that happened was that one of them made a weird signal to me, which made me laugh which caused him to laugh? Maybe this was my second marriage proposal of the trip? After being in the cold for forty mintues we decided it was time to leave.
After leaving it was only ten pm so we decided to hit the Mall of the Emirates,as it was open to midnight tonight. This was our third trip here but we had never had the chance to see so many locals. Something interesting we noticed was that the men travel in huge groups. It was almost weird to see only two together! We decided to take in a movie as we knew we would be awake late after sleeping most of the day. Made of Honour was playing so we jumped at the chance to see the 11:45 showing. I can not say I have ever seen a movie with as many races watching as I did tonight. As much as we laughed during the movie, it doesn't compare to the laughter of the locals. Either they really like Patrick Dempsey, or just like to laugh. We have been in Dubai four full days and tonight was the first chance we really had to be amoungst the locals.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Drive to Oman

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Oman Photos





Monday, May 5, 2008

Yousef Dedicates a Song to Dave

The trademark Yousef Lean-in

Stunning view down to Khasab.
Ashley said there is no where else in the world she wanted to be right then.


Today we left the country.

We decided to leave the hubbub of crazy Dubai and go for a day trip to the Sultanate of Oman. I have visited Oman about a year ago as part of my Gulf State trip and loved everything about it. Oman is considered ‘the anti-Dubai’. There is very little development and Sultan Qaboos has implemented strict development rules.
The adventure began the evening before the day trip even started. Ashley and I returned directly to the villa following our amazing tea on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab while Dave, Deidre and Lynda took a cab to the Mall of the Emirates to pick up some odds and ends.
The phone rings and it is our driver to Oman, Yousef. He was just calling to introduce himself before the 6 a.m. pick up the next morning and to make sure he know how to find the villa. He seemed to want to chat about everything and nothing, but I eventually said my good bye’s after saying several times, “So, Yousef, we will see you tomorrow at 6 a.m.”. About 30 minutes later a van pulls up to the villa. Jason excuses himself from playing PS3 and goes to see who it is. I notice the sign on the van and it looks like our pick up van for tomorrow. Yes, indeedy, it was Yousef. I guess he was in the neighbourhood. He just stopped by to say ‘hi’ and drop off our visa forms to get across the border. Low and behold, he was Arab! What a treat. We don’t get to meet many Arabs in this part of the world. Other than Abdul ,who stopped by the villa one day to ask if he could rent my villa for one day for his family to play at the beach, and the odd shop keeper, our interactions with the locals are few and far between. All Asian workers. I dazzled Yousef with my Arabic and got the usual shocked reaction. He then insisted on going through the very simple one page form in great detail and, again, there was no getting rid of him. We eventually said our good bye’s and I had a very good feeling about the whole upcoming adventure as he was quite a character.
A 4:45 a.m. wake -up comes as quite a shock when you’ve been up half the night with Ashley watching downloaded Coronation Street episodes. I rallied the troops and Yousef was right on time, dressed in his butter-coloured dishdash and cream and brown head scarf. We loaded into the van and were off.
Calling Yousef ‘a character’ would be an understatement. We could immediately tell that he was mischievous, playful, and was going to keep us entertained. As we sped down the highway at warp speed, weaving in and ut of traffic to find the fastest lane, he would often lean way over to Dave, sitting in the front passenger seat, and carry on a quiet conversation of which none of us were privy too. Dave later pointed out that Yousef would be looking direct at him, not the road.
Yousef’s choice of music was amusing. A collection of cover tunes by artists unknown to us. A few John Denver songs, the odd Celine Dion, mixed with some Euro Techno. Dave later told us that later on that one of the first lean-ins was, “This song is dedicated to you”. I can’t recall the song, but along the way we all had songs ‘dedicated to each of us.
Our first stop was a petrol station to grab snacks, use the facilities, and have a smoke. Oh, yes, one of the first things he said to me in the morning, before even leaving the villa, was, ”We will first stop at a petrol station for water, toilets, and….perhaps you smoke?”
At the petrol station , during a smoke, Yousef made enquiries. If Deidre was Dave’s girlfriend, why was Dave sitting up front and I in back with her? Which one of the other gals were my girlfriend? How old was I? I pulled my usual “How old do you think I am?” This promted a thorough 360 degree inspection, paying particular attention to any protruding grey hairs. None being found, “29, sir” was the answer. I told him my real age and a look of astonishment came over his face. Feigned or not, it was an entirely delightful interaction. My enquiries led me to find out Yousef was 26.
Somehow, perhaps to put everything back the way it should be, Dave ended up in the back seat with Deidre and I was now in the front seat. We plugged my Ipod into his stereo and dedicated a few songs to Yousef.
Passage through the Omani border was hassle free with the usual astonished look when I spoke Arabic to the crossing guard. "How is it you know Arabic?". I replied that to learn a few words of the language a country you are visiting really isn't that difficult and simply adds to the experience. He shook his head in agreement and I walked to the van where the gan were deep into British Invasion tunes. And we were off to explore the beautiful Sultanate.
One is first struck by the lack of development, construction and generally more laid back way of life in Oman. Sultan Qaboos has implemented strict guidelines so that no building is more than 9 stories high (and those are few and far between and only found in the capital Muscat). He has even regulated the colours one can paint their house or a commerical building - usually in white, pink, or natural light brown.
The part of Oman that we visisted was new to me. It is an enclave completely surrounded by the UAE and is found at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula touching the Strait of Hormutz, just a few kilometres from Iran. Forty percent of the world's oil supply passes through the Strait by tanker.
The road to Khasab, where we picked up our boat tour, hugged the Arabian Gulf with the stoney, jagged Hajar Mountains protruding up from the other side. It was spectacular as the video and pictures. The water is a turquoise blue, bordered by either white rocks or immaculate white sand beaches.
We drove the winding road on our way to Khasab. The views were stunning. We arrived at the picturesque town of Khasab where we would board our boat (about twice the size of a PEI lobster boat). There was just us five, four others, and the crew of three. The boat was laden with rugs and cushions for high-intensity lounging. I was chilling when I heard a lot of commotion. The dolphins had appeared and were trailing alongside our boat, jumping and turning on their sides as if to show off or wave to us. We then moored for a snorkel. The other gang were quick to get geared up and take in the the crystal clear turquoise waters. I was hesitant and eventually decided to ask for a life jacket and went in. Many beautiful and colourful fish were about.
Following the snorkel the crew prepared us a great meal. We then did a slow sail to another snorkel site. Dave and Deidre participated, but Ashley, Lynda and I stayed aboard. The crew through lunch leftovers into the water and there was a feeding frenzy. We could see the fish so clearly, some almost jumping out of the water. It was fantastic.
A slow sail back and we arrived back at Khasab where Yousef was waiting with his usual mischievious grin. The trip back was much faster on account of a more streamlined crossing back into UAE and Yousef clocking up to 160 km/h. We said our good-byes to Yousef - who hung out front of the villa for about 20 minutes getting caught up on his nicotine, with radio blaring. It was a great day. Top of the list of activities so far.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

I think I can...I think I can...

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4X4 Desert Safari

Five Desert Nomads
A Stuck 4X4!
Ashley, Lynda, Dave and Deidre's 4X4 descending a dune
Lynda got to see loads of camels

Deflating tires before going into the Arabian Desert