Sunday, April 27, 2008

Day 1: How Many Men Does it Take to Dispense Ice?

The villa overlooks the turquoise Arabian Gulf. Iran is 200 km to the North, Saudi Arabia surrounds the United Arab Emirates to the East and South, with Oman to the East. The Arabian Gulf juts between the fingerlike fronds of the Palm Jumeirah. We can see the iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel, shaped like a giant sail, in the distance. It is the tallest hotel in the world, built on an island. In the distant haze, we can see the Dubai skyline, including the tallest building in the world--the Burj Dubai.

All the island fronds are completed, with about 1/4 of the residences appearing to be occupied. The buildings on the trunk and the crescent surrounding the frond are still under construction, but we cannot not hear any of the activity from our villa. The exterior of the beautiful Atlantis Hotel appears to be mostly complete. We will attempt to walk towards it in the relative coolness of the evening.

Ashley and I met Lynda in Montreal to board our overnight flight to London. We had very little time in Heathrow to catch our departing Emirates flight to London. As we were running through Heathrow Lynda remarked that it was an "Amazing Race" moment! We were winded. We flashed our boarding card to security to alert them of our soon-departing flight and were advanced through the queue. Another dash took us to Gate 7 to find that they were just beginning to board, even though it was our scheduled departure time.

Our first landing was aborted at the last minute. Emirates provides you with a live camera view of both the pilot view as well as a downward view. This only heightened the thrill of the aborted landing as we quickly pulled up at the last minute with the evening runway lights ahead and below. Our second approach took us directly over the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai. This was quite a thrill to see the Burj from the downward view of the aircraft camera. As we passed over Iran, it felt like a spy mission with camera's intact--flying over the mountains of Pakistan and the deserts of Persia.

As expected, Ashley and my luggage did not arrive at Dubai International due to our short connection in Heathrow. For the first time ever on my travels, a baggage official approached me at the carousel, concerned we had not received our luggage. He confirmed that it had all been unloaded and we should file a report with baggage services. This turned out to be quite a humourous experience. I knew we were doomed when I saw two staff standing behind the seated staff, indicating to me that we were in trainee zone, as was confirmed by their Trainee badge. hour later we got out of there. It could have been filmed for some sort of comedic customer service documentary. It was more humourous than painful. God love them. As we attempted to file our report, there was a man flipping out at the baggage manager. It all added to the atmosphere. Lynda sat quietly outside the baggage office, taking in the atmosphere of Dubai International. This included her first "call to prayer", which I find memorizing.

Given our late slightly late arrival and ordeal at baggage, we never expected to see Dave and Deidre, who arrived directly from Emirates via Toronto. They were scheduled to arrive within 5 minutes of our scheduled arrival time, and we scanned for them, but, alas, assumed they were compfortably situated next to the villa pool. As we went out to the taxi area...there they were. Allah intervened! We grabbed a taxi van and set off on the first evening of our Arabian Adventure. Our taxi driver was Zayad, originally from Syria. He had been here for 7 years and was discussing how nuts the city is. I dazzled him with my Arabic, and we sped down Sheikh Zayed road. I commented to the others that we could have been in New York City with the skyscrapers on each side. I made enquiries about taxi hire for the rest of the trip, and he was none to shy to give me his mobile number. He navigated the Palm like a pro, and we easily found Villa 29, Frond E. A mention of the location and the villa owner's name got us an easy wave through the two security checkpoints.

Jason greeted us at the door and gave the tour. The villa and the outdoor area is larger than the pictures depict (for anyone new to this site, go to the archives on the bottom left and select "January" for photos). I was conflicted by which room to take. The "Linen Room" with the nice decor and large balcony that overlooks the street; the huge Master Bedroom with no balcony (go figure) but a view of the Arabian Gulf, and a three-room bathroom including jacuzzi; or the "Red Room" with balcony overlooking the Arabian Gulf. Liz, the villa manager, had picked the Red Room for me, but the decor had a little too much going on for my liking. I selected the cool, relaxing Linen Room but changed my mind and opted for the massive master bedroom.

Once we organized ourselves in our rooms, we couldn't let the pool sit unused. Jason turned on the pool lights, and the water glistened against the adobe wall. It was lovely. We showered and turned in for the night after raiding the welcome pack of food.

I awoke at 8 a.m. I thought I heard the TV in the entertainment room at about 3 a.m., and indeed, Dave was too wound up to sleep, so he played PS3 and then watched the sunrise from his and Deidre's ocean-view balcony. Lynda and Ash rolled out of bed around 9 or 10 to find us all in the pool. Dave and Deidre took the sea kayak out at 8 a.m. and were met by jumping fish!

It was 29 degrees when I got up. The back of the villa (Ocean side) gets the morning and early afternoon sun, so it was cooking. I popped my head out the front door to find the Sunday edition of the Gulf Times so we enjoyed that and the Globe and Mail that I took from the plane on the patio.

Deidre (clad only in her bikini!) made us all breakfast as we got up and delivered to the patio on a tray. I've asked for some fresh flowers to be cut and placed on my tray tomorrow. It was great! Then, more swimming. Alas, we thought there was an outdoor jacuzzi, but the only one is in my bathroom.

Jason--our live-in houseboy--has been very helpful especially with technical things such as firing up the PS3, working the ice machine (which Dave managed to break at supper tonight), and the Opus sound system. Our drink glasses seem to continually disappear, as he is a keen cleaner-upper. Except for the Heineken can on Ashley's window ledge from previous guests. He does take the odd PS3 break. All work and no play makes your houseboy a dull houseboy.

Dave and I took the sea kayak out later in the morning. I wore a life jacket on account of my issues with water, but it was not really needed, as it is a wide kayak and tipping is not much of an issue. We kayaked out to near the end of the frond for spectacular view of the Burj Al Arab as well as the haze-cloaked Dubai skyline. It was too hot at this point for jumping fish.

Jason then drove us in the seven-passenger SUV to the Mall of the Emirates (the one with the ski-hill). We browsed around, checked out Ski Dubai and then went to Carrefour for a major grocery shop--600 dirham later ($200), we left with our cart brimming full of groceries. The irony of my buying Atlantic Smoked Salmon did not go unnoticed. A short taxi ride later, we arrived home. A few naps were in order.

As I was having my pre-supper swim, Jason checked in to say he was clocking off for the night. He's gone for the evening, so we are left to our own devices--lubed up on wine, gin and tonic, gin and vodka, and diet pepsi (Lynda). The gang provided a lovely supper of fresh salad, mango-chutney chicken, olives, bread, Boursin cheese. This was followed by two very large chocolate bars (shout out to Daniel). I found the Boursin cheese went nicely on the chocolate, but it was probably the booze talking.

We are now chilling in the entertainment room, listening to British Invasion tunes. Lynda is having the time of her life. Deidre is on the other laptop, Dave is playing Ps3, and Ashley is loaded on the bean-bag chair.

Tomorrow, we are doing the Big Bus Tour of Dubai. That's all for now. A big hug to all our family and friends home and around the world.

"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


Laura said...

Chocolate and cheese! Did Ashley have a hand in that?

Keep the stories and photos coming, it sounds like paradise so far!

Ash said...

Nope - cheese and chocolate was all Terry's idea!

Laura said...

Get him to try it with some bickies next time. Bread, cheese and chocolate. Classic travel food.