Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year ... Dubai Style!

Happy New Year!

We kept things low key this year. Oh who am I kidding? We keep it low key every year! I can't remember the last time we went out for New Year's eve. Not really our thing with the crowds, traffic, craziness. Better to stay home with the kitties, pop in a movie and try to stay awake until midnight. Which is exactly what we did.

And we had greater incentive to stay awake this year as Dubai was attempting to set a World Record for the largest fireworks display. While the results are still not confirmed by the Guinness committee, it looks like they've done it. SIDENOTE: Did you know that Guinness has a Dubai office? Wait, of course they do! :)

The live TV coverage was great as we got to see the display at the Burj Khalifa, then the Burj Al Arab and the finally the record breaking event over the Palm and World islands. No way we'd have seen all that if we had driven to Dubai. Newspaper articles say folks from Abu Dhabi took 5 hours (starting at noon) to reach Dubai for the event (it's a 1.5-2 hour drive tops on most days). No thanks, we'll watch from the couch in our jammies, thank you.

"The six-minute event spread across 100 kilometres of seafront, had been 10 months in the making and needed more than 200 pyrotechnicians to be dotted around the two sites to ensure everything went off without a hitch."  Yep, that's our Dubai!

And if you want to get a taste of it for yourself, click the link below.
Video of the Show

Wishing you all the happiest, healthiest and most prosperous year ever! ;)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Vietnam: Arriving in Saigon, or is it Ho Chi Minh City?

I'm a few vacations behind in blogging so let me see if I can catch up a bit this month. In October, we went to Vietnam for a week. A really nice trip and really interesting. Some had told us to be a bit wary of anti-American sentiment, but we experienced nothing of the sort and felt very welcome the whole trip.

We flew to Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon) and found out that pretty much only government officials call it Ho Chi Minh City. Most of the population we met called it Saigon (one told us it was simply because Saigon is easier to say!) In any case, we arrived in Vietnam and made our way to our apartment that we reserved for the 3 days we would be in town.

We've started using Airbnb and VRBO (vacation rental by owner) for a lot of our trips - much nicer than a hotel - more room, cooking facilities. This place was near the Reunification palace and not too long a walk to most of the major attractions we were interested in seeing.

After getting settled, we decided to walk around a bit and find something for dinner. We wandered around and decided to get very local right away so stopped at a little streetside place serving . . . well, actually we had no idea, but it smelled good so we grabbed a seat. 
 I'm not sure how well you can see this from the picture, but basically, you sit around a very low table on very small and low stools (think of a child's play stool and you'll have the right impression). Lots of locals here so we figured the food must be pretty good.
And then we got the menu and realized this might be a little more challenging than we thought - our server didn't speak any English really, but we managed to convey the words soup and chicken and off she went. Oh, and Heineken was on the menu so we at least knew we'd get a beer out of the experience!

The good news is that our 'chicken soup' was absolutely delicious! We figured if this meal was any indication of what was to come, we'd have no trouble with the food.

On the walk back, we started to get a taste of the traffic and the number of scooters on the roads. Now, we've seen this before in Thailand and a bit in Sri Lanka, but nothing like the volume of Vietnam. The roads are absolutely packed with scooters and a few cars, but there is no road rage, a little honking to let people know you're behind them, but nothing irate. It's this flow - like fish in a stream. Pretty impressive. Unfortunately, we didn't get many good pictures to truly show what it was like, but this one might give you a sense.
Crossing the street is an adventure in itself. We were told early on that you just have to step out, stay confident and never stop or go backwards. The stream will pause and shift around you and you won't get hurt. Seriously? Okay they aren't going THAT fast, but still - just walk right out and they'll move around me?

And you know, they were absolutely right. The only time I had any trouble was when I paused or got nervous and took a step back.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

We're Moving!

No, not back home, just to another complex in Abu Dhabi. Not out of choice, but because we're being kicked out.

I came home one night a few weeks ago and as the taxi dropped me off at the exit and I started walking to our apartment, two women stopped me.

"There a residents' meeting tonight! We're all being evicted and they're making this a hotel!"

Huh? and Hello by the way (I'd never met these two). After getting a few more details, I found out there was a meeting in a few minutes with the complex management. I rushed home, changed and went to join the meeting. (Brian was in Saudi for work so couldn't attend.)

And sure enough, they've decided to make our complex a hotel with furnished, serviced apartments. I suppose kind of like the place we stayed our first month after arriving in Abu Dhabi. It will be fully furnished, have daily maid service and the option for room service. At 21% higher rent than we're paying now!

We actually have the option to stay and pay the higher rate, but we'd have to live through 4-5 months (more like 6-12) of construction noise and dust, sell all our furniture, relocate for 4-6 weeks while they renovate our apartment ... it just didn't seem like a good plan, so we're moving in mid-Feb when our lease expires.

We haven't yet figured out where - something closer to Dubai to help with Brian's commute and ideally somewhere that still has a bit of a garden for the kitties (we haven't told them yet - they're going to be crushed to leave their birds and bushes). The way the market works here, it doesn't do you any good to look more than about 4 weeks in advance because properties come and go so quickly here so we've got a couple more weeks before we need to start looking in earnest.

Part of me is excited as I love a change of scenery and an opportunity to redecorate (maybe some new furniture?). But the other half of me is exhausted just thinking about it. We don't have a lot of stuff here, but still - going through everything and organizing a move is never super fun.

And I'm sure the cats will be super helpful (yea right).
You can just move my box of treats over there.
I'm not leaving my garden of birds and you can't make me.
Wait! Petra's coming too?
Would love to help pack, but we're a little busy here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Sandbox

Yes, yes, I know, I've been a terrible blogger. Let's see what I have here in my excuses box . . . hmmm, busy? (used it before), holiday craziness? (they'll never buy it), getting old? (perish the thought!), just plain lazy? (yep, that should do it).

This time of year, a lot of people send sympathy wishes to us either in their cards (thank you!) or emails, facebook posts, etc. Things like, "I know you don't get to celebrate Christmas there ..." and "It must be hard with no Christmas over there ..."

I decided I'd better set the record straight so that you don't feel too sorry for us. Yes, Christmas time is harder than most because we miss family and friends, snow and Black Friday sales, but not because we don't have any Christmas here. The thing I love most about the UAE is that it is truly international - meaning we get to celebrate everything. Well, almost everything. I'll admit I've never seen anything for Hanukkah or Kwanza, but pretty much everything else. 

Now, it's not as public as back home, but in every hotel and shopping mall across UAE, there are Christmas decorations, music, holiday goodies and even a Santa Claus or two. Here's a taste of what we saw this year.
This is the tree at Etihad Towers (a residential, hotel and retail complex). This was in the lobby and the area next to it is a little shop selling mince pies, candy canes, gingerbread, etc.  Mince pies are HUGE - a British thing that our forefathers must have left behind when they boarded the Mayflower. Some of you probably now mincemeat or mince pies. I didn't really understand until coming here, and while not my favorite holiday treat, I try to get a few during the season each year.
This is the tree in the Park Rotana, just down the street from our apartment. This is the main one in the lobby and they had another smaller one and a gingerbread house down another hallway.
When we arrived at the Park Rotana, the Filipino staff was singing Feliz Navidad ... yep, in the Muslim desert. See? Who says we don't have Christmas here! :)
And this lovely tree was in the restaurant where we had Christmas dinner - turkey, stuffing, roasted vegatables ... and seared Ahi tuna for a starter. :) Not exactly traditional, but really good. And the winter fruits cake and gingerbread for dessert were amazing.
This huge tree was in the Ritz-Carlton lobby. We went there because we heard they were holding a "Christmas Market". Turned out to be just a decorated buffet dinner at their restaurant. Still, nice to see the tree.
And this is our pathetic plastic tree from the hypermarket. While you can find a very few real pine trees this time of year, the cost is outrageous and it just doesn't seem right to buy a tree shipped from Canada. I mean, come on, we're in the dessert! Accept it, buy your plastic tree and move on.

We haven't made it this year to Emirate's Palace, but I've heard they've got their standard monstrosity of a tree in the rotunda - might try to get there this weekend and take a look.

So, for those of you feeling sorry for us, don't. We've got plenty of Christmas cheer and holiday goodies to keep us entertained. And while it doesn't replace being home with family and friends, it does keep us in the holiday spirit.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!