Monday, March 26, 2012

UAE Trip

Day 1 (14th of March): well, really - day one is just a travel day... and by "just" I do mean the WHOLE day travel.  I got up at my normal time (5:30ish) to get kids up and ready for school, see them out the door and continue to fight with my iPad to get movies transferred (another thing I need to work on now that I'm home - get this computer fixed....).  My computer fought me tooth and nail on at EVERY turn trying to prep for this trip as well - it will NOT recognize my iPad or phone any longer... arge!So - after staying up half the night to get movies transferred to the iPad, I discovered my books were now gone. Sigh.
I gave up and moved a few books to the iPad before leaving on Wednesday... I helped Mom and Dad with the house and got some odds and ends done, however, it seemed like I was just in a hurry up and wait mode all morning.  There is something to be said for working a half day just to keep your mind occupied.  Ah, well, hind sight and all that jazz.  so, Mom and Dad dropped me off at the shuttle at 12noon on Wednesday.  And so the adventure began.
Day 2 (15th)
I had multiple flights, however for some reason when in  ATL they only gave me the first leg of my trips boarding passes.  I got to Washington and received the next leg, however not the third leg's boarding pass either.  Weirdness.  Amsterdam is an interesting place to fly through/out of as they screen you a second time when you go to the actual gate as well.  Again, weirdness.
So - after about 20 hours and a 9 hour time difference I arrived at Abu Dhabi airport... went through customs, and walked the gauntlet of people... no Leslie.  Hum... walked it again, dragging a very uncooperative suitcase behind me (crushed wheel was later discovered)... still no Leslie.  I got to thinking we NEVER exchanged numbers, so this could be very interesting if something did come up while I was in transit :o\  ha!  Nothing did... and she walked up to me when I was on my second loop and wandering to the doors outside - to see if they were at the curb instead :o)  Yeah!!  It was like NO time had passed and we picked right up where we left off some 12 years ago.  Fun times, fun times.  We sat up and chatted and caught up on life in general until the wee hours of the morning.
She and Sarah share a 2 bedroom flat there in Abu Dhabi. Sarah is a nanny for a number of families, however nanny is more of a transportation in some cases, pick kids up at nursery, transport them to the house with the house keeper you pick up as well type of situation - sounds great to me... although driving through some of the multi lane roundabouts would freak me out!
View from their flat - 14th floor.  Note that there is a haze in the air and I could really feel it the first night in town... cough, cough, hack, hack... little did I know this was the best we would see it the entire time I was in country!  There were two storm fronts in the area, so I didn't get the ideal weather, I got the freakish weather for the trip.  Ah, well, just one more reason to go back, right?
So, Day 2 (15th - Thursday) was arrive in country and go to bed late that night
Day 3 (16th - Friday) the first day of their weekend (Friday/Saturday) and we were off to Dubai!
We stopped at two malls on the way into town - mostly to look for Elizabeth's LG Lollipop phone that I never did find.  We did give it a goo try, however, along the way, we saw Krispie Kream Donuts, so I had to take a picture for Linda and family!  The first mall was the Ibn Battuta Mall
 We went to the Mall of the Emirates to see Ski Dubai and for Leslie and Company to get a hamburger at the Shake Shack - apparently the one and only place to get a "authentic" burger in country.  I would compare it to Five Guys Burger and Fries.  It was good... but for me, doesn't compare to Mikes Hot Dogs here in town :o)
What Ski Dubai looks like from the outside, apparently it's quite the large slope considerably higher than we could see from the windows we were peering through.
 From there we went to check into the hotel.  It was adjacent to the Burj Al Khalifa  The Ramada Downtown  The views were phenomenal - we could see the entire Burj Al Khalifa as well as the Dubai Mall and fountains.  Very impressive!
The living room to the two bedroom suite was:
this window along with a small balcony off to the right of the picture overlooked the fountains and if you looked up and to the left, the tower as well!
The kitchen with bar as well as a little dining nook off to the side (only two chairs as there was a full dining table in front of the bar:
Weird little bathroom shower in the 2nd bedroom.  No shower curtain at all.  I thought I could pull it off as there was a drain in the floor... but it was too awkward to try to "spritz" shower... I gave up and bummed Leslie's bath from that point forward!
You knew you weren't in the states anymore as there were pictures of the Sheiks all over.  This is two of them on the building to the ocean side of us - basically to the west of our building.
The mall is the HUGE area behind the fountains - it is 4 stories tall and goes on for at least a mile around the outer walkways if not more!

Fountains at night and in motion!
This first evening we were schedule for a dinner cruise in the Marina area going through some of the bigger buildings of the area.  Never tell these to "put your heads together" you never know what you'll get!  ha!
 The Atlantis hotel visible in the distance at the tip of the Palm Jumeirah
Cool twisted building in downtown.  It's not completed yet, however it's very impressive
 Yes, we even smoked the shisha - it was a grape flavor and wasn't horrible... I didn't inhale, it was hard enought to NOT smoke with multiple smokers around, however wanted to see what the fuss was about with the flavored smoke.  yeah, I could leave it alone just fine :o)

Day 4 (17th Saturday) dawned with FOG and a lot of it.  Something I just had not anticipated from this part of the world.  Fog - desert?  Doesn't seem to go hand in hand, nor does Desert and humidity, however this is the case in this particular desert, so something new learned on this trip as well.  Also, some of what I see in the air may not necessarily be dust, it could just be normal haze that comes with humidity as well.  Weirdness... however, after seeing the amount of dust on the patio's after a day of accumulation... I'm fairly convinced most of what we were seeing in the air was the last bit of the sand and yuck that had not settled out since the last big blow hard storm as well.
 Walking over to the Khalif praying the fog would burn off before our tour time of 9:30!
 figuring out what building was ours and where our room was on the 28th floor... very close to penthouse level.
 Walking, chatting, catching up!
 Our hotel is the 2nd from the right - it was set back a bit from the others, but still afforded a very nice view of everything.  Our balcony was to the far left of the building.. very nice!
 Sometimes you just need to be goofy and hold up the whole building :)
 The a more "stable" way to hold... ha!
I think we were "sucking it in" for something that was going on at the window :)  Just being goofy!
 If you look really close - to the right of the tower in the foreground you can just make out the Burj Al Arab - the sail shaped hotel... and I do mean look CLOSELY as it's not very visible.  We did  use the telescopes to show all different scenes so we could confirm what it would look like on a clear day and we were, indeed, looking in the correct direction!
Case in point - this is where the world islands are being built - we could barely see the faint outline of the lower portion from our view... however, this afforded a nicer view of what was really out there!
Fun comparison of historical of in the mid 70's to early 80's:
And today - one of the few sets of older hotels still standing amidst all the madness that is the new Dubai!
And of course, this is after leaving the restrooms... because you HAVE to pee on top of the world, right??  hahaha!
After our tour and rambling around the top of the city... we headed down and into the mall.  Where we continued our tour of "in the worlds" - there a LOT of world breaking things in this area, that's for sure!  Case in point - the Aquarium in the middle of the mall:
And it's "in the world" record :o)
They also have an ice skating rink in this mall as well - there are also retractable awnings above this one section for more pleasant temperatures - they can roll the roof back and let natural light/air in.
We stopped off at Bloomingdale's as well for a coffee and a cupcake as well - they teased me about my "sippy cup" lid!
Sara joined me in the sippy cup/small world with a sample of a shake along the way!
And just in case you ever wanted to know... Leslie found herself - look, she is "here"... haha!
I had called another college friend Shams the night prior and was semi stumped as I had not talked to him in 20 years.  I called with a "hi, this is Donna...Ashwood... Autrey... used to be" as I had NO idea if he would know my married name - ha!  Yes, it was THAT stilted.  Sigh.  I'm a dork.  Then as he was pulling himself together as well, he basically said "Hi" and a "where are you calling from"... and was floored that I was actually IN Dubai.  Wendy (His twin brother Qamar's wife) failed to tell him I was coming into town OR that she had given me his number and had told me she would give him my number as well.  Talk about funny.  Nice cold call after that length of time, eh?  Nothing like calling someone out of the blue with an "I'm in town - want to meet up to say "Hi"?"  ha!  He was a good sport about it and he and his family met us at the Mall for lunch and a bit of catching up.  Had he had a bit more warning, I'm sure he would have talked us in to a lot more visiting and a lot more adventures in Dubai as well.  As it was we had a GREAT meal of Lebanese food and a nice three hours of visiting and catching up.
Very beautiful family - his daughters are close to our girls ages too - 11 and 15
Regretfully we had more places to go and more things to see.  Our night that night was another scheduled dinner cruise on the Dubai Creek.  This seems a bit redundant, however they were two distinctively different areas of the city.  The marina was/is all man made and the "new" area, where the Creek is the historic and older section of town.  Very different in the perspectives of what you see.

HOLY crap!  I just put in three more days of details and it's GONE...
Ok, starting this on a new post...

UAE continued -2

OK, let's continue on with Day 4 (17th Saturday)
We left Shams and his family to finish their mall trip - a book store run with the girls and general shopping trip and we went back to the hotel to "freshen" up a bit and let Leslie rest her poor bum knee.  She had turned wrong at some point during the day and it was giving her fits, so down with a cool cloth on her knee she went.   
It wasn't quite enough to make a dent in the pain she was feeling, so she opted out of the trek to the dinner cruise - not knowing if we would have an equally long hike to the boats, etc.  The down side was that we didn't have that long of a hike to the actual boat, however we were still upstairs as that is where it is open air, thus smoking area.

The area we saw this night was the older part of town on the natural "creek" inlet - much more relaxed and laid back than the first nights cruise, but equally as entertaining with the views and seeing the older parts of the city.

As we were very early Sara decided to broach the subject of a refund for her part of the dinner as it was an injury that kept her from participating... and the fact that it was her birthday didn't help much either!! Upon hearing that the nice man - who turned out to be the owner, not only offered Leslie's refund, but also sent her a cake to the hotel room too - what a sweet, sweet man!!

Day 5 (18 th Sunday)  The next day dawned with Leslie more mobile - yeah!!  We left the car at the hotel and took a cab into the older part of the city that we had seen the night prior from the creek.  In fact, I'm sure we actually left out on the water taxi's from the exact places you see in the shots prior!  While being dropped off, we did ask that he drop us closer to the old souk (market) area - and he obliged and dropped us in front of the Dubai Museum as well - since we were right there, we did the tour as well.  Who knew if we would come back this same way, so no time like the present to see it all!

Sara joked this was HER size door - ha!

And back out on the streets and headed into the souk's... first up was textiles and such.  I found some cute shoes for the girls (in green and purple - of course!).  I then got them each a pool cover up as well as myself and a few other gifts that will be given out at later times (nope, no hints here!)

This is a water taxi - how do you ride such a water taxi?


There is a little diesel engine in the hole and a very tiny wheel to steer by (I think it was only about a foot in diameter!)

Then if you're sitting in the back near the rudder you get to know how it's all really connected - yep, rope and pulley system.  Worked just fine!

What a full taxi looks like from a distance... it's almost like "where's waldo" looking for the captain, isn't it?  He's in the middle somewhere.

Gold souk - my downfall... really the gold itself was NOT inexpensive anymore :(  Oh, well - I did find one piece that SCREAMED buy me... and after some haggling and bargaining and debating... I did take it home with me.

Custom is to NOT take pictures of Mosques... so this is really NOT a picture of the mosque... it's a picture of us on the street.

And after a LONG hard day of shopping and wandering the streets of Dubai, we were headed home... right back into the wind and sand...

There is a stark difference that was pointed out to me at the boarder of the two Emirates - One being that Abu Dhabi has trees and shrubs planted and irrigated all the way to the boarder... LOTS of greenery on the side - well, relatively speaking, it is a true desert.  Dubai - you note the stark difference when you cross the boarder - trees and shrubs and irrigation to the highway ends.  dead in it's tracks!

Day 6 (19 th Monday) on a bright sunny day and we lazed around all morning as Sara had to work that morning and we, well, Leslie and I bummed around doing laundry and generally being bums, chatting and catching up!

After Sara got home, we headed out to Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque.  We had a bit of time as it was prayer time, so we walked around where we were allowed to be while prayer was going on and took pictures.  I liked this picture of me - one of the few I really do like!

Once inside we were instructed to put on the abaya (robe) and shayla (head covering) to go into the mosque.  In the visitor information they plainly state wear modest clothing, shirts to the elbow, pants, etc..  There were a few in hoochie mama outfits that had to get dressed before even going on the grounds... I was fine as I had on long pants and a reasonable shirt...

Omar the tent maker made my abaya as it actually reached the ground.  Me and my non-observant self was told that there was a hugely tall woman who had on one that was a flood as she was way too tall even for the one they gave me!

what you see in the background is all inlaid stone - it's everywhere in this room - floors ceilings, you name it... it was BEAUTIFUL!  (I'm digging for my spare battery for the camera!)

Obligatory pigs in a mosque shot :D

inlaid stone again on the pillars.... so very pretty!!!

My favorite exterior shot....

LOVE the men in suits going in for prayer.

Favorite interior shot.....

Random picture!!

After the days running around it was decided we needed some henna!!  So off we went - Leslie had arms and legs done, I had arms and legs done, Sara had arms done.  I seriously thought about photo shopping the gut off of me... then though - oh, why?  It's a known fact I'm THICK around the middle right now... maybe it will motivate me to get off my duff and do something about it, eh?  It's a good theory anyway - until then, the henna will make any woman feel sexy and beautiful!

These shots are the next day, but show how pretty it all turned out!  I went 'traditional' as I found out from a gal who was in with us having her work done.  She was very traditional came into the shop in full abaya and shayla and stripped down to a workout outfit - she was just coming from basket ball practice.  She was married, had a child and was going to the university studying design.  Leslie may have her design some clothing for her in the future.  Will be fun to see some of her work if they keep in touch!

Oh, and to this, I told my girls, it was official, I now walk on water!!

(this was in Qasr Al Sarab, so the sand is a statement as well - ha!)

OK, this is not a comment on day - this is a comment on air quality and how it degraded over my visit - the first shot is day 1... then next is when we got back from Dubai - the last?  When we got back from Qsar Al Sarab...  Yes, the air deteriorated that much over that time.  Some could have been fog, but with the wind, most was dust in the air.  The funny thing?  I was more effected on day 1 and 2 and could FEEL it in the air.  I had acclimated by the last days and didn't think twice about it.

Which brings us to Day 7 (18 th Tuesday)
Leaving out to go to Liwa we were scheduled to go by the Emirates Palace Hotel to take some pictures.  They were only letting anyone in with reservations, so they gave us a number to the coffee shops and we set one up for an hour later and dashed to the mall to get some proper shoes as "sandals" were not permitted (flip flops).  A mad dash through the mall, the purchase of shoes, dates, AND cigarettes for Butch and we were on our way back to the palace.  We had decided we would have Tea there... read into that the British lunch. 
Now picture this, this place is like the Beverly Wilshire dipped in gold... truly - gold in EVERYTHING.  Gold on the ceiling, in the flower vases, gold on the chocolate, gold in the coffee, gold in the wine... yes, gold EVERYWHERE.
HOWEVER we jumped right in and ordered tea - why not?  Really?  I'm on vacation!!

Exterior is under construction on this side....

Gold coffee bean that turned out to just be chocolate with a gold dusting... mind you I did tell my kids I am worth a LOT more for a while until all this passes !!

Yes that is gold in the coffee!!

I asked for the menu to take a picture so I could remember what was included in this opulent meal we just snarfed down :)

And off to Liwa - late, but oh, so happy!!