Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dubai Outlet Mall

This past weekend, I finally made a trip to the Dubai Outlet Mall. I'd been wanting to go for ages, but as you can imagine, Brian was less inclined, so I took advantage of the fact that he was out of town and made the trip one Friday afternoon.

What a bust!

It's funny because Dubai is considered one of the best shopping destinations in the world, but for me, it stinks. Here's the problem. My idea of 'great' shopping is choice, available sizes and bargains. The shopping here is all about name brands, size 0 and designer price tags. Dubai earns it's status because of the huge variety of designers you can find here, but unfortunately, designer doesn't really mean much to me - paying $75 for a white T-shirt seems silly no matter who's name is on the label.

So, I was really excited to try the outlet mall thinking that even if I couldn't get away from the designers, maybe at least they would be in my price range. And, to be fair, some of them were, but then I'd run into the size problem. I'll not share my size on this public forum, but suffice to say sizes 0-4 aren't going to work for me and for the most part, that's about all I found.

I did, however, have a nice day out, just didn't come home with a single thing! (and those of you who know me, realize that's a pretty bad afternoon of shopping!) Oh well, guess that just leaves more money for vacation travel! ;)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vroom Vroom - Dubai Auto Show

This adventure happened last fall, but I'm just now getting around to blogging about it. We decided to attend the Dubai International Auto Show and as all things Dubai, it was big, sparkly and completely over the top.

If you've never been to an auto show, let me explain. It's basically an opportunity for car manufacturers to show off their latest and greatest. Some bring their best selling cars, some bring concept models that aren't in production yet, but all aim to put their best stuff out there and impress the public. What's really fun are the custom car outfitters - these guys take off the lot cars and turn them into something unique and spectacular ... and with the money in Dubai, some of these creations were jaw-dropping.

Here are a few photos to give you a taste of the event.

There were quite a few electric and other hybrid production cars and concept cars at the event. Unfortunately, they all also carried the phrase, "not yet available in UAE". Figures, what would a country with this much oil want with an electric car? Although, we did run across a car rental agency that rents electric cars for the day, week, whatever. We thought that was pretty cool, but it's REALLY expensive (and rentals are fairly cheap here) so I can't imagine they're doing really well.

Sorry for the people in this photo, but I couldn't get close enough for a great picture. I'm not sure how well you can see it, but the exterior of this SUV is some kind of composite material rather than metal. Think of the composite decking material you may have seen in the states and this is close - very interesting.

 This is from one of the custom shops, Mistrale. It's a porch that's been bedazzled.

And what car show would be complete without a few scantily clad women to show off the cars. Actually, while there were lots of beautiful women in tight fitting clothing, aside from this cutie, they all had their shoulders and knees covered ... tightly, but covered.

I had never even heard of a Maybec, but Brian had and said it's a very high end car. I could understand why, it was gorgeous!

I think this was BMW or maybe Lexus, but the reason for the photo is the custom head rests. See the UAE Falcons? They also had a Steinway car that had the Steinway piano logo on the head rests and bragged that the dashboard was the same material as their grand pianos.

One of the concept cars from BMW. Really cool to look at, but completely impractical to actually use on the road. Still, very fun to see.

One of the Bentlys. See that glass wall in front? You needed special permission to get into the area and actually touch or like these guys, sit in the car. I wonder why we didn't get in ... Brian's zip off pants? my scruffy tennis shoes?

My favorite car of the event, a green Bugatti convertible - such a sweet car. And no, I don't know how much it costs because this is one of those places where "If you gotta ask, you can't afford it".

And finally, a custom Rolls Royce. The photo does not do this car justice. It was absolutely stunning and kitted out with everything you could imagine. Too bad they weren't offering a test drive! ;)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Volvo Ocean Race

About a month ago, the Volvo Ocean Race made a stop over in Abu Dhabi. We went down to the Corniche to check out the festivities even though we hadn't really been following the race. It was a gorgeous afternoon and a really fun event to learn a bit about the race and see the boats.

If you're interested in the race, here's their official website with a lot of info and the ability to track the 9-month journey. In a nutshell, it's one of those physical and mental endurance events where a team of 11 sail a state of the art sailing vessel over 39,000 nautical miles over a period of nine months. They call it the 'Everest of Sailing'. So, we really had to check it out. Here are a few pics of the event.
By pure luck, we arrived just minutes before the start of a pretty amazing air show. I took lots of pics, but this is about the only one that turned out really well. The planes here are shooting smoke the colors of the UAE flag.

 There are 6 teams competing in the race, one from Abu Dhabi. This is the Abu Dhabi boat and the  guy in front is the only UAE National on the team.

A shot of one of the crazy dudes repairing part of their boat. The work involved to keep the boat in perfect working order for 9 months must be incredible.

 Getting up close to see the boats.

And we can't have an Abu Dhabi event without a falcon or two! :) This was pretty amazing actually as this guy would let you take pictures with the falcons - some were even allowed to hold the perch and let the falcon sit on their arm. I tried to convince Brian to do it, but he wouldn't.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stormy Weather

We had a doozy of a sandstorm yesterday and the forecast indicates it will continue like this for a few more days so I figured I'd let you in on the joy that is sandstorms in Abu Dhabi.

Now, if you're like I was when we arrived here EXACTLY 13 months and 3 days ago, you're having a hard time picturing what a sandstorm really looks and feels like. I had heard about them and certainly seen some really cool ones in a few movies, but really? what actually happens? Let me try to explain.

Let's start in the house, where I'm sitting now typing out this blog post. I'm facing the patio and am looking out on the garden and the 6 foot wall that surrounds it. Behind the wall is another compound with some very large and mature trees and lots of birds. From this relatively protected spot, a day of sandstorms just looks like a really windy day. The trees are swaying like mad and if I compare the color of the plant leaves in the morning to their color in late afternoon, they've gotten significantly dusty with sand. I can also see a uniformly thin layer of sand covering the patio and everything out there (including the laundry I hung out this morning).

Now, let's move to the pool since I decided yesterday to finally get my lazy butt off the couch and get some exercise. Again, it was really windy, and once I stepped outside, I could feel the sand whipping through the air. It just feels gritty. Not so much that it feels like it's getting in your eyes at first, but then slowly you realize it's getting everywhere - in your hair, eyes, ears, nose and mouth, You learn quickly not to wear lip gloss or lick your lips too often. :)

So anyway, I'm at the pool, set up my stuff on a sun chair and jump in for a few laps. All is well as I'm in the water and aside from it being a bit cool when I stand up because of the wind - everything's pretty much the same as it always is when I go for a swim (and by that I mean, uncontrolled splashing, snorting water and really bad form). When I get out and back to my chair is when the realization hits - everything is covered with a fine layer of sand - my towel, the chair cushion, the US magazine I was planning to read, my cell phone ... ugh. I can kind of shake it all off, but as I sit there for the next 30 minutes or so reading my magazine, I can feel it dusting back onto everything. And of course, because I'm wet it's sticking to me - especially in my hair. By the time I head back in, I feel really gritty and dirty and head off for a shower.

Brian and I then headed off to run a few errands in town and experienced the sandstorm on the roads. The sky is really hazy during a storm - almost like a brown fog, but dry and of course, there's that wind I've already mentioned. We were heading into town so the roads are a bit more protected by all the buildings, which really helped. Short distance visibility wasn't a problem, but you couldn't even see the skyline of Abu Dhabi as we were driving in because it was so hazy. The paper this morning said the wide open road to Dubai was down to 300 meters visibility in some places. YIKES! And, unfortunately, sandstorms don't stop most from continuing to drive like maniacs so that adds another element of danger as half the drivers slow down a bit and the other keep on barreling toward their destinations. It's just best to stay home during a sandstorm, really.

So, that's a little taste (pun intended) of our sandstorms here in Abu Dhabi. And now, I need to try again to wash all the sand out of my ears.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dinner with George

Gourmet Abu Dhabi is back in town this month and we took advantage this year with a celebrity dinner hosted by George Colambaris, who is one of the chef judges on Masterchef Australia. I got hooked on MC Australia when I first moved here as it was one of the few shows on TV during the day that wasn't in Arabic and that I hadn't seen before. So, when I saw George was coming, I grabbed 2 tickets.

It was a fun night at the Yas Rotana ballroom with Champagne and canapes to start and some amazing courses. And, of course, we got to meet George. Here are a few pics of the event to make your mouth water!

George came to each table to serve the broth of this course.

Yum! Happy so far.

dessert - mango ice cream and a bunch of other fancy stuff

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I'm sorry, I can't sell that to you

A few weeks ago, I decided we needed to buy a decent coffee maker. I had been surviving with a plunger pot, but it just wasn't doing the job and was messy to clean up, and well, I wanted something that would let me be more lazy, to tell the truth.

So, off we went to Al Wahda mall to the electronics store on the 3rd floor to look for an automatic drip coffee maker. And we found one. A really sleek red model that would do the job nicely. The challenge was, it didn't have a price listed. Things here are just like back home where the price is listed underneath the item on the shelf, not on the item itself and they use the bar code to match everything up at the register. But this model didn't have the price card on the shelf. We called over a store clerk.

"Hello. Could you tell us how much this coffee maker is please?"
"Sure ma'am." (she looks around the shelves for a while)
"There is no price here, ma'am."
"Yes, I know. Could you tell us how much it is?"
"We just got these in the store and haven't yet put the price on them, ma'am."
"Sooo, how would I buy it?"
"The price is not here yet, ma'am. It's a new item."
"Okay, are you telling me you can't sell it because it doesn't have a price listed?"
"Okay ma'am. I'll check in the back to see if we have a price."
"Okay great."

We waited about 10 minutes while she went in back and figured out the price of the item. She then came back and wrote the price on the box with a marker and we headed to the register.

At this point, you have to understand how the stores work. The woman who had helped us so far works a particular area of the store (in this case household electronics). Then, there's the person who takes the item from the store area person and walks it with you to the register (which is about 5 feet by the way). I assume this is so the store area person can rush back to help someone else. Then the 5-feet transport guy hands the item to the woman behind the register who actually rings up and bags the item.

Now, think about our situation. A new item that hasn't yet been fully logged into the system and now 3 separate employees involved in the transaction. Yep, recipe for three-stoges kind of hilarity.

The first woman handed over the item and carefully explained that they needed to use a separate bar code that was taped to the box and that the price was written on the top. I knew at that moment we were in for some confusion because 5-feet guy wasn't paying any attention, instead looking to see which register was open.

We got to the register and he handed over the box without a word. I tried to mention the bar code, but she was already trying to ring it up with the original bar code on the side of the box ... which didn't work, of course. So she calls over 5-feet guy while I again try to explain. They start talking in rapid-fire Filipino and I'm quickly ignored.

5-feet guy points out the handwritten price on the top of the box and register girl tries to scan the original bar code again. I one more time try to explain that it's a new item and she needs to use the other bar code, but to no avail.

5-feet guy now goes to track down store area girl and all three huddle at the register while she tells them exactly what I've been trying to tell them. (sigh) Thank goodness for all that efficiency! But, there is a happy ending - we walked out with a new coffeepot and paid less than we expected we'd have to, so all is well.

Waiting for the correct price .... 10 minutes
Waiting for the 3 stoges to ring up the correct price .... 10 minutes
Auto Drip Coffeemaker .... 175 dirham
Good coffee while blogging .... priceless

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Before & After Garden Photos

After a year of dead garden, flooded garden, dead garden, flooded garden, we decided to take matters into our own hands and hired a gardener to come by and spruce things up. We met a lovely man from the Philippines who has a degree in Agricultural science and was willing to help us with a bit of landscaping. Interesting story - he came here to find work, owns a farm back in his home country and works his tail off to put his 3 kids through university - one in medical school, one in pilot training and one in aviation engineering back in the Philippines. Meanwhile, he's using his hard earned degree to help some hapless expat fix her miniscule garden. Sometimes the reality of the stories here are overwhelming.

Anyway, we picked out some nice plants and he and his colleague transformed our garden area in a few hours Saturday afternoon. Now we've got some flowers, much prettier ground cover and hardy plants that will last through the brutal summer and the occasional drought caused by our faulty water timer. Here are a few photos of their work.

I know, it's a far cry from the pond behind our last house, but it's the best we can do with what we have to work with.