Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Trip to the Clink

Well, we knew it had to happen at some point ... a trip to the police station.  A friend and I decided to head downtown for lunch and stopped at this nice little cafe outside one of the markets. We ordered our lunch and had a wonderful time. When the bill came, we both put in some money and left it on the table and walked away. Well, apparently, that's not allowed here in Abu Dhabi even though we had left enough for the meal and a decent tip. We got about a block away from the cafe when 2 of the waiters came running after us screaming bloody murder in Arabic. For a moment, we thought they were after someone else, but they stopped in front of us, grabbed both our arms and starting hauling us back to the restaurant! I can't even tell you how scared we were - we couldn't figure out what the problem was. And embarrassing!! This was a pretty busy street so everyone stopped to watch the 2 western women being dragged away by these waiters.

They took us to the kitchen area of the cafe, which helped a little - at least we weren't still out on the street! The owner (we guess anyway) was a cranky older man who was yelling at us in a mix of Arabic and English. The only words we could understand were thief and no pay. We tried to remain calm and I quietly said that we only speak English and could he speak slowly. Eventually, we got the gist of the issue - they were convinced we left the cafe without paying for our food. We tried over and over to explain that we had left our money in the folder on the table, but they wouldn't listen. After some "discussing" (we tried really hard not to get frustrated or raise our voices as we didn't want to upset anyone more than they already were) a police officer arrived at the cafe.

The policeman spoke better English, so we were able to better explain what had happened. His first response was "why did you leave the table before they picked up your money?" Well, we didn't have a good answer for that, but tried to explain that that wasn't unusual in the states. The owner was still very upset and kept insisting that we be arrested. As things went from bad to worse, we offered to pay (again) for our meals, which we did, but the owner still wanted us to be arrested! After more "discussing" the policeman finally told us we would have to come with him to the station. WHAT?! All I could think of was how on earth I was going to explain this one to Brian!!

Well, the good news is that once we got in the police car (most humiliating experience ever - I felt like a complete idiot and criminal to boot!) the policeman told us he wasn't going to take us to the station, but would drive us away so the owner would be mollified. He ended up taking us a few streets over where we were out of sight of the cafe and could catch a bus home. (whew!) He was actually really nice about it and explained that in the future, we should make sure the waiter has taken our money before we get up to leave a restaurant. (yeah, like either of us will forget that any time soon!!)

So, I didn't have to call Brian to bail me out after all, thank God! And, I think I'll plan to eat at home for the next few days. :)

(oh, and remember that the date on the blog post doesn't synch up correctly because of the time zone difference? ... It's April 1st already here in Abu Dhabi ... April Fool's! ;)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kayaking in the Mangroves

Yesterday's adventure was a kayaking trip organized by the American Women's Network. For about $40 we had a 90 minute guided kayak trip through the Mangroves, which were very pretty. Not exactly Hawaii or New Zealand, but considering the ratio of sand to green things, this was a pretty nice change. :) The kayaking was easy - actually really easy because I didn't have Brian behind me telling me I wasn't paddling fast enough! I went in a single kayak and while never really did get any good at paddling straight, did make it to where I was headed most of the time. It was a gorgeous day - about 80 I'd say with a nice breeze. The sun was intense as usual, but the breeze made it perfect and I didn't get too hot.

We went with an outfit call Noukhada, which means captain of the water in Arabic. The outfit is run by a man originally from North Carolina and they are working on Eco Tourism (a bit of an uphill battle here where 5 Stars is average). They had really nice gear, were well organized and took good care of us. We had a really nice time. We started out at a small beach area less than 10 minutes from our apartment, which was great. We then set out through a man made channel through the Mangroves and then into the more densely vegetated areas.

This channel is man made and goes right through the middle of a Mangrove area. Abu Dhabi is in the process of building a HUGE hotel/spa complex about a mile or so straight ahead from where I took this picture. I'm sure they're going for opulence in the middle of nature, but I'm afraid they'll end up killing everything off while they work on developing this area. For now, though, it's really fun to see the rugged Mangroves against a backdrop of Abu Dhabi skyscrapers!

While there wasn't a ton of wildlife to see on the trip, we were told to keep our eyes peeled for the rare purple Mangrove crab. When they mentioned that they were purple, I thought "sure, light brown that looks purplish in the right lighting", but they really are purple! Unfortunately, the photo doesn't do the color justice, so you'll have to trust me, this little guy was as purple as Donny Osmond's socks! (and if you don't get that reference, you're probably not old enough to be reading my blog. :)

After kayaking, a group of us went out for lunch and had a great time on the Corniche. I learned about 2 local types of bread as we ate at a local cafe on the water. The first is called Saj and is a thin, porous bread that is cooked over a mesh dome which is over heat. They fill it with all kind of things, both savory and sweet and then roll it up into a sandwich, kind of like a wrap. The other bread is called Manakeesh and this one is thicker, more like a soft pita or flatbread dough. Again, you can get many types of topping, savory for this type of bread, and they fold it in half to make a sandwich of this one. Both are very tasty and you can find them everywhere. A cheap, yummy lunch for sure!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Houdini Kitty makes her escape

We had a bit of a scare this morning as we realized that Rogue wasn't in the apartment. Usually, she's on the bed with us or following us around as we get ready, but not this morning. Then Brian remembered he had gone outside late last night because he was working on adjusting something on the internet router (which is located outside the apartment). We figured Rogue must have slipped out. Since Rogue is still pretty skittish, we were very worried she had gotten scared and run off or hid. All I kept thinking was "she just got here!"

Brian threw on some clothes and went looking around the compound, asking the workers as he passed if they had seen a cat. (Due to the language barrier this usually required some descriptive hand gestures and a few animal sounds to make sure everyone understood. :) No luck and we were getting worried. And, of course, this was one of the few mornings where I actually had plans and was supposed to meet some folks for kayaking at 9am. I was starting to get nervous that I would have to cancel in order to keep searching.

Brian was getting really worried and asked me to make a few signs while he got ready to go to work. I think he felt even more horrible because he was the one who left the front doors open. Just as I was pulling the last sign off the printer, Brian decided to take another look in our building lobby under the stairs where we were storing some boxes and lo and behold, there was little Houdini cat hunkered down behind the boxes. Naughty little kitty!!

Crisis averted and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief. Rogue meanwhile went straight to her food bowl as though nothing had happened! And later that day, she was found plotting her next escape to the back patio to chase birds. :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Furnishing the Apartment

Kim commented that she wanted to see the carpets we bought and I realized I hadn't shown any 'after' pictures of the apartment. It's a work in progress of course, but here's what we've got so far.

Here's the living room (or sitting room) with the new carpet. The couch is a fold out with storage underneath - this was part of the furnishings Epic provided and is pretty nice. They also included the coffee table, the TV stand (which isn't pictured), the dining room table and chairs and our bed.  Enough of the basics to get you started. The rug is great, although those black squares are a cat hair magnet! :)

This is the work in progress office. We're still unpacking boxes and storing a few for one of Brian's co-workers so it's a bit of a mess. We bought the lounge chair you can just see off to the side, and the cabinet unit and desk are from IKEA. The table in the middle we shipped from home and will eventually be my craft table once things get fully organized. You can also see out to the patio and the two chairs we bought for that area. It's so dirty and dusty out there that I have to keep the cushions inside and only take them out when I'm going to sit out there. Keeping up with the dust out there is a losing battle. I'm hoping once the construction dies down, I might be able to get ahead of it. The drying rack for clothes is also out on this side of the patio - I have to wipe that down before a new load goes out to dry because it's always so dusty.

And this is the bedroom with the new rug. It matches the curtains nicely, but not the comforter cover. At some point I'll get a new cover, but it's not an urgent need. The bench at the end of the bed is from IKEA and the lamp was provided by Epic. The whole other wall is a built in closet unit, so plenty of room for clothes and storage. I doubt we'll buy anything else for this room (like a dresser ...) as we just really don't need it. And, we're trying to remember that everything we buy we'll most likely have to find a way to get rid of in 3 years. 

In addition, we bought a TV for the sitting room - 40" HD which is really nice. I've almost figured out which channels we get and finally found American Idol last night (and only caught the last 5 minutes). There's not a lot of TV shows to choose from, but the movie channels aren't too bad. It also allows you to plug in a jump drive and play from that, so we downloaded Dexter and caught up on last season.

We shipped our desktop computer and printer and Brian is in the process of getting that set up. Unfortunately, his first attempt resulted in a loud CRACK as the difference in voltage blew out the power unit. The system will support 220 volts, but you have to 'flip a switch' first, which Brian didn't. We were very worried that he had fried the whole thing, but luckily it was just the power unit, which he was able to replace for less than $30. Whew!!

We also shipped a decent amount of kitchen tools, so we're set for pots, pans, cooking utensils. We had to buy dishes, glasses, mugs and storage containers. I also think I'm going to need to invest in an electric mixer and possibly a blender. We're trying first to do without and see what we really need rather than just buy everything we had back in the states. I'm sure in a few months we'll have accumulated a few more items. The most urgent need was a coffee maker, which Brian actually got as his birthday present. It's a cappuccino maker that steams the milk for you - pretty nice and WAAAYYY cheaper than a stop at the coffee shop each morning (coffee drinks are really expensive here). So, while I'm still without a job, Brian gets his latte each morning from me, his personal barista. ;)

Rogue is settling in fine and her litter box is actually in the guest bathroom shower (remember the smallest shower ever?) It works really well as she can make all the mess she wants and it stays pretty contained in the shower basin. She's itching to get outside and play with all the birds, but that's not going to happen any time soon. She's just a little too curious to let her outside here. We're wondering if we can get her used to a leash. :)

So, things are coming together. The thing we're most missing is wall art. We had some beautiful pictures on the walls back home and didn't even think about shipping any over (we were thinking practical I guess). The walls, as a result, are a little bare. Hopefully as we spend more time here, we'll pick up some local pieces that we can then bring back to the states when we return home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Brunch

Much like Sundays back home, Friday Brunch is a big deal here. It's the first day of the weekend and the Muslim holy day, so afternoons starting at noon and going until about 4:00pm are for Brunch. Most of the nicer hotels host an all you can eat and drink brunch and most are organized buffet style where you just help yourself until you burst.

Our first brunch, about a month ago, was at the  Crowne Plaza and their speciality drink was Mojitos, which they had in a number of different flavors including strawberry, lychee and of course mint. The buffet was huge and had European and Arabic dishes, a nice salad bar, cheese station, all kinds of different breads, and a really nice chocolate fountain for dessert. They also had a live singer performing and she was pretty good.

Today, we went to the Royal Meridian to the Oceans restaurant for brunch and this one was set up a little differently. Same general idea of all you can eat and all you can drink, but you order what you want off the menu. They didn't have a speciality drink so I had a Margarita and a Mojito and they had many others to choose from. They had breakfast food, appetizers, salads, main courses, cheese, fruit and desserts, you just had to choose whatever you wanted and keep ordering. It was kind of nice not to have to get up, but I really wanted to try a small taste of a lot of different dishes rather than have to settle on a few. We spent a few hours there with the group and by the time we had paid the bill, we were all uncomfortably stuffed - a sign of a good brunch. :)

I should also mention that Ocean's wasn't our first choice. We actually had reservations at One to One, but upon arriving were told that the brunch had been cancelled (we had a reservation for 14 people). Come to find out, they were expecting their liquor license renewal and apparently didn't get it, so decided to cancel the brunch ... and not tell anyone. (sigh)

After brunch, most of the others headed to the beach, but Brian and I headed back home. Our plan is to head out to the pool here, but currently Brian is softly snoring next to Rogue on the couch, so I'm not sure we're going to make it to the pool before the sun goes down. :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Buying a Carpet

Because our apartment is all ceramic tile, we decided to add a little color and warmth by purchasing a couple of carpets. There are many places to buy carpets here and it's quite a big business so we weren't quite sure where to start.  Our first look was at the carpets at IKEA, because we were there shopping anyway. They had some nice ones, certainly not Arabic in any way, but were too small for the rooms we needed them for. In fact, we realized as we were looking that neither of us had taken any measurements, so we had to postpone anyway - then found out these would be too small.

Next, we looked at the various hypermarkets, most of which have a carpet section. We saw a few that might fit the bill, but nothing that really jumped out at us. The nice thing is that it started to give us a sense of the prices, styles and sizes available. I also looked in some of the furniture stores I had been visiting, but again, couldn't find carpets big enough. We did find one carpet store that sold gorgeous carpets of all styles and sizes. This place was amazing! The whole store had these huge hangers for the carpets that you could roll out and in to see the whole carpet. They carried both contemporary styles as well as more traditional Arabic styles and they were very well made and beautiful ... and a lot more expensive than anything else we'd seen. We found one we liked, but decided to keep looking and do a little research online.

That was were I found the posts about the Carpet Souk (market). A strip mall of stores selling only carpets and an opportunity to bargain, which we were very much looking forward to. We don't know much about carpets, which would be a distinct disadvantage to our bargaining leverage, so I did enough research to learn a few terms to hopefully sound intelligent like "knots per centimeter", the difference between hand and machine made and that most come from Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. With that very limited knowledge, we set off one evening to have our adventure.

And the first adventure was finding the place. Unfortunately, I couldn't find detailed directions on the web and there is no phone number for these kinds of places, so we had to wing it. I knew it was near the fruit and vegetable souk, but seriously, that didn't narrow it down much. After about 30 minutes of searching, asking a security guard and a taxi driver, we finally spotted it ... on the other side of the road. (sigh) Another 10 minutes to figure out the correct U-Turn and how to actually get into the souk area and we finally made it.

As we pulled up, a number of shopkeepers and helpers (all men) got up from where they were sitting and talking and started to move towards our car. We knew we were in for our first hard sell experience in Abu Dhabi. We experienced a lot of that while in Guinea and felt comfortable with it, but hadn't seen much of it here. Sure enough, as soon as we opened our doors and stepped out we heard all kinds of variations on the following:

"Hello Sir (or Madam), please I have good carpets for you."
"Come see, I have high quality."
"I give you good price, very good price, come look in my shop."
"You come here. I help you get good carpet, good price."

Although we'd experienced this before, it was still a little overwhelming, and of course, we didn't know the best way to respond. In Guinea, you just ignore them or say "no thank you", so that's what we tried here, and it seemed to work okay. The challenge was, the only way to see these carpets was to walk into each shop and have a look around. And once you were in, the shopkeeper did whatever he could to keep you there so you would buy from him. Our other challenge is that it wasn't very busy, so the shopkeepers had plenty of time to focus on us (as if we weren't conspicuous enough already! :) Let's just say it was a tough place to browse.

The shops themselves are incredible. I'd say they're each roughly 15 meters long by 10 meters wide and crammed with rolled up carpets. This wasn't like the fancy store where each carpets was lovingly hung on it's own hanger and stayed flat and very visible. These were rolled up side by side and the only way to see the whole carpet was to point one out and then wait for the shopkeeper and his assistants to extricate the carpet you liked and then unroll it on the shop floor. And unfortunately, we were looking at the biggest carpets they carried, so they were all in the very back, which meant the shopkeeper would first need to pull out the 3 rows of carpets in the front and then wrestle the big mama out so he could unroll it for us to see. We were told over and over again that unrolling a carpet for us was "no problem", but I still felt guilty for the work we were putting them through. In some cases, we'd see what looked to be the perfect carpet only to have it unrolled and find a huge bright pink flower design in the middle.

In one shop, we mentioned that we were looking for a gray carpet and the shopkeeper's helpers promptly scoured all the other surrounding shops and started hauling in any carpet in our size that had gray in it! We think in hindsight that this is actually the way you're supposed to shop for carpets - pick one store and make yourself comfortable, explain what you're looking for and let the shopkeepers bring the carpets to you. I came to this conclusion after one of the shopkeepers laughed a bit and said I was working too hard - this after we came back to his shop for the 3rd time to compare one of his carpets to another shop's. In any case, after what felt like a couple of hours, we settled on two carpets. Now came the fun part ... bargaining.

Brian and I perfected a good cop/bad cop method of bargaining when we were in the Peace Corps and were surprised at how easily it came back to us here. As most of you have probably guessed, I'm most often the bad cop, partly because I'm more convincing and partly because, as a woman, I can a little more easily get away with the hard bargaining without coming off as rude or insensitive. So the process goes something like this. (NOTE: I certainly don't remember the exchange verbatim, but this is close enough to give you the flavor and see why we find the bargaining process so fun.)

"So, what is the price for these two carpets?"
"Hmmm, these are very good quality madam, very good carpets. I think for you, I give good price for the two carpets. 2100 dhiram."
"2100 dhiram? Oh no, that's too much - we can't pay that much for these carpets."
"Okay, how much you pay?"
"How about 1500 dhiram?"
"(laughing) oh madam. (shakes his head smiling) For you, because you are my friend, I give you good price. 1900 dhiram."
"(silence - my own head shaking and smiling) That's still too much. How about 1600 dhiram?"
"(more laughing) Oh Madam, no, this is good price for these carpets. Look at the quality of this carpet (runs his hands over the carpet). This is very good carpet, very good price." He then tried to appeal to Brian and took a look in his direction. But we've been down this road before, so right on cue ...
Brian: (shrugs) "Madam is very difficult." (laughing between the men)
"Okay, I give you good price, final offer. 1800 dhriam." At this point, he typed the number into a handheld calculator and showed me - maybe to make sure we were very clear on the numbers?
I then pressed Clear and typed in 1600. He laughed some more and we sat in silence for about 30 seconds.
"Okay madam, we have problem. You say 1600 and I say 1800. You give some and I give some and I give them to you for 1700. Do we have a deal?"
"1700. We have a deal." And we shook on it and laughed.

I actually have no idea if we got a good price or not, but we had fun, felt good for knocking him down 400 dhiram (about $100) from his original price and he didn't seem offended or upset in the least, which could either mean that he still took us for a ride, or more likely that he respected that we knew enough to bargain for a better deal. His assistants began folding up the carpets and he offered us tea, which we accepted. We then spent the next 15 minutes or so drinking tea and chatting as much as we could given the language barrier. We found out his name is Jan, he's been in Abu Dhabi for 13 years and is originally from Afghanistan. And because we are now such "good friends", he let Brian take his picture inside his shop.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Visitors from Home!

Yesterday, I got to spend the day with one of our very best friends, Brad, and two other colleagues of Brian's. They were here for some work meetings in Dubai, Doha and Beruit, but had a free day yesterday so came to Abu Dhabi. Brian, unfortunately, had to work since it was a Sunday, so I was recruited to play tour guide.

We started at the Emirates Palace, which I've written about before. The only differences this time were that the day was clear and sunny (you'll see much brighter photos from this trip), the expensive shops were open and we weren't allowed to go out the back to the beach area - apparently, that's now only open for guests. Not sure if security was more lax a few months ago or if they've changed the rules or if it was the day of the week ... We did spend some time in front of the gold ATM, though, and I thought for while there someone was going to make a purchase! ;)

Next, we drove along the Corniche a bit and ended up at the Heritage Center, which I didn't even know existed (our driver suggested it). It's a nice area on the beach and a bit of a cultural center from what we could tell. We didn't spend much time there as we were starving and ready for lunch, but it's definitely a place I plan to return to.

For lunch, we headed to the Marina Mall because the girls wanted to do some shopping and Marina is the nicest mall in Abu Dhabi in my opinion (at least so far - sounds like there are a couple more in the works that hope to be bigger and better). We had a really nice lunch at a French cafe in the mall and then Brad and I had some time to catch up while the others went shopping. It was really wonderful to catch up, but made me homesick when he left later that afternoon. I don't regret this move even a tiny bit, I just wish all my family and friends could live here now too! ;)

We ended the day at the Grand Mosque, which you've also read about before. The tour this time was more than 1 hour so I picked up a few more tidbits about the place. For example, the lighting on the outside of the Mosque at night is designed to mimic the moon phases. During a full moon, the exterior lights are bright white and during the phases of the moon, the lights are varying shades of blue. I'll definitely be paying more attention now that I know that. Here are a few more photos of the mosque simply because it's just so gorgeous!

And then, unfortunately our time was up and the group had to head back to Dubai. I was really sad to see everyone go, especially since they took Brian with them and I was left home alone (well, not exactly alone, Rogue is now here with me, but spends the majority of her day hiding behind the bed as she's still getting used to things).  It was a great day, and one I'm willing to repeat at any time for any visitor ... hint hint. :)

Epic Anniversary Dinner

Each year, Epic holds an Anniversary dinner around this time of year, and since the goal is to have Epic Middle East mimic Epic US as much as possible, the crew decided an Anniversary dinner of their own was in order. A Dhow Dinner cruise was organized for last night (Saturday evening). The weather was perfect -  not too hot or windy and we set off at 8:30pm.

We arrived at the dock and got right onto the boat. These Dhows are wooden boats that were used for pearl diving and fishing in the past and now serve as a tourist attraction. We started the evening upstairs with a 'cocktail;, which here means a mix of fruit juices over ice - no alcohol in this Muslim country. As we pulled out of the dock, we had a great view of the shoreline buildings.

After some dates, nuts and our cocktails, we headed downstairs to the main area for dinner. The dining area was nicely furnished and we sat down to a beautiful table setting. I think we counted 5 forks, which should have been a clue that we were in for a feast! We started with a plate of Arabian appetizers - humous, tabouli, smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail and babba ganouch - lots of food and really yummy!

Then came what we thought was the main course, a lobster tail (lobster from the Gulf we found out), a fillet of hammour (a local fish) and some tomato pasta - YUM! And we were stuffed ... AND THEN they brought the main course! Mixed grill of chicken, lamb and kababs over rice. Luckily, the meat was pretty dry so it wasn't too hard to resist. Then a nice and light chocolate dessert and a local desert that was some kind of mashed sweet potato with some interesting spices in it. I'm a fan of sweet potato, but didn't find this dish too appetizing.

After dinner it was back upstairs to enjoy the ride back and have some mint tea. Here are a few photos of the happy Epic crew.

So, while not exactly like Verona, I think everyone had a great time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Cat Who Went to Abu Dhabi

Rogue is our almost 5 year old farm kitty and she just arrived in Abu Dhabi last night after her international flight from Chicago, through Amsterdam and then on to Abu Dhabi. Shipping a pet is not for the feint of heart and we hemmed and hawed about whether to put her through it for months before we finally made the decision to go ahead. The process requires time, money, patience and a leap of faith that people you've never met will care for your cat like you would. Now, having her here safe and sound and seemingly unscathed, we're glad we did it.

I started out doing some research on line and found tons of information, which actually made it harder than easier. There were some conflicting pieces of info and it was hard to find specific, clear instructions on what it would actually take to get her over here. I did quickly find out that UAE does not require a quarantine period, which was a huge factor in our decision making process. It was also very clear that she would need all her shots updated and a microchip, so I decided to start there and made an appointment with our vet.

On the way to the vet, Rogue cried and screamed (yes, screamed - I now know where the term caterwauling comes from!) the whole way there, and I thought, "what are we planning to do to this poor little kitty?" Once at the vet, she calmed down and handled her shots and the microchip like the little bruiser she is. Surprisingly, the vet had helped prepare a number of animals for shipping, but none to the Middle East so they weren't clear on the details. They did, however, put me in touch with the US Dept of Agriculture where I could get additional information.

At this point, I had connected with an American Vet clinic here in Abu Dhabi, so knew I had the receiving process under control. They were very helpful and informed of the microchip requirement and the paperwork I would need to obtain. The challenge was time zone - it seemed to take forever to get responses back and forth. I also got more info from the USDA and figured out I would need a health certificate for Rogue that is only valid for 10 days once issued.  Finally, it became clear that I would need to hire a pet shipper on the US side to handle the documentation and airline arrangements. Originally, I thought I might be able to manage this myself, but many airlines won't even allow it and require you go through a pet shipper. Let's just say the shippers on both ends were worth every penny (and we paid them a lot of pennies. :)

I got in contact with a shipper in Chicago (the closest to Madison) and she clinched the decision with her reassurance and obvious experience and love of animals. Within 5 minutes, I found out she had just shipped out another cat to Abu Dhabi and does it 1-2 times per month and had the details down pat. I was convinced, and Rogue was destined to be an international kitty. The best news is that the shipper was able to take care of the final health certificate and all the other last minute paperwork as well as flight arrangements and boarding in Chicago. This meant we didn't have to burden my in-laws with all that running around. They were already doing enough by keeping her for 2 months ... and putting up with cat hair everywhere, cleaning cat litter and everything else having a pet in the house entails. We can't thank them enough and are soooo grateful for their help!!

The shipper picked Rogue up from my in-laws in Belleville and then stopped in Madison to pick up another cat making the same trip. Another Epic employee was also shipping her cat and we used the same shipper and decided to do it at the same time. The cats then stayed in Chicago for 2 days while they got examined by the vet there and issued their health certificates. We got updates from the shipper each day and while Rogue was initially a little upset she seemed to calm down and by the time it was time for the first leg of the journey, she seemed comfortable in her crate and ready to go. (Thanks again to 'grandpa' who helped her get used to her crate by feeding her bits of canned salmon in there! ;) She was off to Amsterdam and we were left to wait and worry.

While I don't have any specifics about how she was in Amsterdam, the plan was that they have a long enough layover that the kitties can get out of their crates, get some food and water and have all their bedding changed. When Rogue arrived, her crate bedding was neat and clean, so I'm guessing the plan was exactly what happened. After a brief rest, they were off to Abu Dhabi.

The cats are required to travel as Cargo, and I don't even want to think about what that means, but we had heard that this Thursday flight was preferred as the handler's 'knew what they were doing' and took good care of the animals. When Rogue arrived in Abu Dhabi, our shipper on this end received her and sorted out all the paperwork. Come to find out, the paperwork that was supposed to arrive from Amsterdam with the cats, didn't, so the process took another hour to negotiate and our shipper has to go back to the airport today to finish up the process. Luckily, they didn't keep Rogue at the airport until this was sorted out!!

And then she was here. A little skittish and scared, but not upset or panicked. She got out of her crate right away and started exploring the apartment. A few irate meows, but some purrs too. She poked around for about an hour I would guess and then I headed to bed (it was after 1am by that time). This morning she was sleeping with us on the bed and currently, she's next to me watching me type. Seems to be a little quiet, but otherwise doing well. We'll keep an eye on her to make sure she uses the litter box and starts eating, but I think in a few days she'll start to trust that the ordeal is over and be back to her sassy self in no time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Weekend in Doha, Qatar - Villagio Mall

Doha, like Abu Dhabi and Dubai has its share of large shopping malls. This one, the Villagio, boasts an indoor canal, much like the Bellagio in Vegas, so we decided to check it out and have dinner there. After a much needed afternoon nap (I was fighting a terrible cold), we headed out. The mall was a lot farther out that we expected - about a 25 minute drive, but the traffic wasn't too bad as it was still early Friday afternoon.

Malls here, as I think I have explained, are designed for a lot more than just shopping. They all have some kind of kid's activity area, usually a cinema, plenty of restaurants and spas of some kind or another. The Villagio had an amusement park (see photos below), an ice rink where a hockey game was going on, the canal complete with gondola rides, a huge food court and a number of massage and nail places. Plenty to look at for the afternoon.

The amusement park was huge, with a full sized ferris wheel, a roller coaster that wound around the place, carnival games, a fun house ... and a Gloria Jean's coffee. :) The photo of the entrance looks like it's outside, but it isn't - this is all inside the mall building itself.

Some photos of the canal and gondola - yes, this is all inside. Pretty amazing what they've done with the interior of a shopping mall. We ate at a steak place in the mall, which was actually pretty good except, of course, we were missing our glass of red wine. Muslims don't drink any alcohol, so the only place to have a drink is in the hotels or in your own home. Definitely not in a public shopping mall. Instead, I had a fresh strawberry juice, which is a little like a smoothie.

And that sums up the trip to Doha. We really saw pretty much everything there is to see, so it's not a place we need to go back to. Brian will most likely have additional trips there for potential clients, but I probably won't be tagging along.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Weekend in Doha, Qatar - City Tour

We signed up for a city bus tour, and yes, we were by far the youngest in the group! ;) I actually really like city tours because you get the lay of the land, hear about the culture and the country a bit and see the top tourist attractions, which is exactly what we got from this one.

We started at the Islamic Museum of Art - too bad we had just been there that same afternoon. It worked out okay, though, as we decided to visit the Dutch exhibit since we hadn't done that the first time. Next up was the Islamic Cultural Center, which is a beautiful building as you can see from the photos.

The Cultural Center's goal is to educate people about Islam, so they have a large wall display outlining the history of Islam, the 5 pillars of the religion, the connections to the 5 major prophets and how the teachings of Mohammed explained some of the mysteries of science long before they were scientifically proven. It was really interesting and provided some great insight into the Arab/Muslim culture here in UAE. It also dispelled some myths. For example, the idea that women are not equal to men is not based on any religious teaching or texts in Islam. In fact, the Islamic teachings heavily promote equality for women and there are numerous passages in the Qu'ran to that effect. It's more left over cultural biases and practices that keep the women at home in some areas of the Arab world.

We then visited the Souq Waqif and then took a short tour of the new city and passed by some of the office buildings, hotels and Al Jazeera TV station. Along the way, we learned some interesting facts about Qatar. The first being how well Qatar nationals are taken care of. Qataris make up only about 25-30% of the population in Qatar and the government, naturally, is trying to encourage growth and participation among that group. I still can't even imagine being a minority in your own country! Most Qataris work for the government and even so, they are short people, so they supplement with other Arabs. A Qatari working for the government makes about $8000 USD per month. They pay no taxes of any kind, health care is provided and education is also free. For each child, they receive an additional $600 USD per month. Pretty sweet deal! In contrast, other Arabs working for the government that are not Qatari make about $1100 per month. They also receive free health care and don't pay any taxes, but I think they need to pay for their children's education and there are no additional incentives for kids. This is to encourage Qataris to work and to keep the population growing. Where does all that money come from? OIL! Qatar is the world's largest producer of oil and gas - a very rich country.

Here are a couple of other random shots of the skyline and a few buildings in the city.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend in Doha, Qatar - Islamic Museum of Art

Another part of our adventure in Doha included the Islamic Museum of Art, which was within walking distance of our hotel. The museum opened in December of 2008 and was designed by I.M. Pei (the guy who did the pyramid at the Louvre in Paris). It's a stunning building and houses a really nice collection of Islamic art.

The museum is located right along the Corniche, so it's a nice walk with beautiful views and lots of flowers this time of year. On a city tour we took of Doha, we were told that the flowers will last about another month and then die out as the weather gets hotter and hotter. They are in full bloom now and really pretty.

The exhibits were all well marked and organized by time period and geography. Islamic art is all about the intricate design - sometimes of geometric shapes, sometimes of items or designs found in nature. None of the religious art has any people or animals, but the secular stuff does. And, they decorated everything from rugs to fabrics to bowls to water jugs. We saw some elaborately carved water filters! And the designs are really intricate and complex. There was also a good collection of jewelry, which was amazing - huge emeralds and of course, lots of gold.

I didn't take photos of the exhibits, but here are a few of the interior and exterior of the museum.

Admission to the general exhibits of the museum was free. In addition, they had a special exhibit on the Golden Age of Dutch Painting that was less than $10/person, so we went to see that as well. We spent about 2 hours there total and had a really nice time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekend in Doha, Qatar - Souq Waqif

On Wednesday, Brian had to go to Doha, Qatar (about an hour away by plane) for a business meeting, so we decided to take advantage of his flight and hotel and I joined him on Thursday for a long weekend. Coincidentally, I also needed to renew my visit visa and this was the perfect excuse.

We stayed at the Gloria Hotel, which was in what they have dubbed "the heart of Doha" and it ended up being the perfect location. We were within walking distance of all the major attractions of the city and only took a taxi once to get to the Villagio mall (more on that in a future post). I arrived in Doha about 6pm and met up with Brian at the hotel. Luckily, he was able to switch from his original room, which was really small and a smoking room that stunk to a non-smoking suite that had a cute little sitting room and a nice large bathroom with a whirlpool tub. I'm told I should be eternally grateful for this as the previous room was awful.

We got settled in and then headed out to find some desert (I had eaten on the plane and Brian had a big late lunch). We decided to explore the Souq Waqif. A souq (or souk) is a market. In the past, these were open air markets or perhaps in tents. These days, they have been newly built to look old and have become a tourist attraction as well as a place to shop. The souqs I've found in Abu Dhabi so far have been more like multiple small shops in a strip mall setting, while the Souq Waqif was built to resemble the souqs of old and is a lot more interesting.

It was Thursday night (remember that's like Friday back home) and it was about 6:45 or so, so things were just starting to get busy. By 8pm, the place was packed. This is a view of the parking lot, which was actually pretty well organized. In Abu Dhabi, cars would be parked in any which direction, irregardless of any painted lines.

This is a wider main alley that takes you into the center of the souq where there are a number of restaurants and coffee shops. As usual, there were a variety of people there - Arabs, Asians, Indians, Westerners. You could spot the tourists immediately as they were either a) wearing shorts or b) taking photos. Brian and I never wear shorts in public, but with my camera, I was readily identifiable as a tourist.

A view of the central restaurant area. It's probably about 8pm at this point and just starting to get busy. We went back the following night (Friday) and it was closer to shoulder to shoulder with people. Not by coincidence, I'm sure, this is also where the "handicraft" shop are (aka tourist junk). We didn't find any good tourist junk to bring home with us, unfortunately.

Here's a shot of the souq in the daytime. We ended up there about 4 times during the weekend because it was close, interesting and a good place to get food. Notice how empty the place is - this is probably about 11am on Friday morning. Because Friday morning-early afternoon is the Muslim holy day, most places aren't busy at all and many aren't even open until about 4pm in the evening on Fridays. Because the Souq caters to so many tourists, a lot of the shops and restaurants were open on Friday too.

So what can one buy at this market? In a word, EVERYTHING! There were areas selling cloth with tailors right next door, candy & chocolate, hardware, cleaning supplies, rice & grains, toys, perfumes, musical instruments, bikes ... About the only thing I didn't see was gold (that's a separate souq a few streets away), butcher shops (also a few streets away) and fruits and vegetables. But some of my favorite areas of the Souq are captured below in the photos.

This is a photo from the spice souq area. I only wish I knew what more of the spices were. It smelled wonderful - like an exotic Penzy's store. You can find bulk spices like this at the hypermarkets in Abu Dhabi as well. As I get more brave, we're going to have to try some of these out.

If you look closely at the shop signs, you'll see that this is the pet souq. If there is anything like this in Abu Dhabi, I haven't seen it. This area was incredible - loud, noisy, lots of people, and of course, all kinds of different animals. We saw lizards, turtles, all kind of birds, kittens, puppies, rabbits ... and baby chicks.

Yes, this is what you think it is. Brightly colored baby chicks in pink, blue, green and purple. We were told that they spray them with something to make them that color ... at that point, we stopped asking questions, not sure if we really wanted to know how they did it. We saw baby bunnies in these crazy colors as well.