Archive | July, 2014

Eid Mubarak – Blessed Celebration

28 Jul

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Eid al-Fitr dawned this morning, hot and heavy with humidity but welcome none the less. The Festival of the Breaking of the Fast after the long month of daylight abstenance is indeed a cause for celebration with the traditional greeting of “Eid Mubarak”. It has the feel of Christmas and August bank holiday rolled into one. With a Divine mandate not to fast it is cause for a big family meal, the exchange of gifts and time off work.

For those of us who have merely been required to be respectful of those observing Ramadan it still comes as a relief. Cafes and restaurants are open during the day, music is played in public places and entertainment is again permitted. Many take the opportunity to go on holiday. With the weekend on either side, Neil has over a week off which has fitted in nicely with my last few days in Abu Dhabi. Yes, I’m making use of that other plane ticket.

I may have been able to get my visa in time but with the reduced working hours of Ramadan and the long break of Eid it never seemed likely. However, the bulk of the paperwork is done so, inshallah, I should be able to get it sorted when I come back. It has been useful to be here as well as a pleasure. The apartment is sorted, more or less, and I’ve been able to have a say in the furnishings as well as being around to get them delivered. Apart from that, I now know that I can happily live out here. And I get to bring back another 30kg of “stuff” on my return. Bonus

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Now We’re Getting Somewhere

23 Jul

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It makes me wary to say it but things are starting to fall into place over here. Neil has finally been given a shiny, new hire care for the duration of our time in Abu Dhabi and it doesn’t have too many dents in it. The apartment is now ours and, oh yes, Neil has been paid. Hallelujah!

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing but, now we can get about easier and the furniture has started to arrive, it really feels like we can settle in. We have kitchen white goods along with somewhere to sleep and eat so the plan is to move in on Friday. All the endless bits and bobs will be bought as we go along although pillows and a quilt are a bit of a priority. Something other than paper plates would be nice, too. Curtains will have to wait – we are trusting no one can see in!

We’re fairly confident on that score with the apartment being more than halfway up a 74 floor tower block (my ears pop at around floor 25). It’s pretty impressive and not at all what we’re used to! Hopefully, though, it should soon start feeling like home. Ah, but as the saying goes “Home is where the internet connects automatically”. That could be a while coming.

Gym Bunny

18 Jul

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Anybody who knows me or, indeed, anybody who has read this blog for any length of time, will know I’m not exactly keen on strenuous physical activity. In fact, I have a theory. I reckon every creature on this planet has a set amount of heart beats. Those whose normal heart rate is rapid tend to have short life spans while the opposite is also true. It follows, therefore, that you shouldn’t use your allocation up on pointless activities like treadmills and going nowhere on exercise bikes.

OK, so there is a a certain logic in the “use it or lose it” theory. I know people who climb hills, swim long distances and spend their days happily jumping in and out of dinghies (an activity I never really mastered) who are much older than me (a rapidly shrinking age gap). I don’t, however, know of anyone in their 80’s who spends long periods every day in a gym. Life is too short.

So it may come as a surprise that I have been spending a regular portion of my day since arriving in Abu Dhabi in a gym. The iftar buffets and the inability to walk more than a couple of hundred yards outside without turning into a quivering pile of sweaty blubber have had a combined effect. The scales provided so kindly by the hotel have left me with no illusions. Something has to be done.

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I could swim. The pool is inviting and I can usually find a time when it is not too busy, empty even. The trouble is my hair. Any humidity or hint of moisture turns me into Crystal Tipps. You don’t remember Crystal Tipps? Here’s a reminder:

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This is not my preferred look.

So the gym it is. I don’t go mad, of course, but I try to find half an hour and a few extra heart beats. That’s me in the fetching robe taking the picture. Go on, look closer.

A Moment

13 Jul

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Some moments in time are destined to stay in our memory. As the sun set over the mosque last night, its mineret dwarfed by the surrounding buildings and telecom tower, was surely such a time. This was the first occasion since my arrival in Abu Dhabi that it was comfortable, pleasant even, to be outside. The shade over the rooftop combined with the sun’s loss of power meant that the breeze, although warm in reality, felt cool on my still damp skin.

The pool water itself had been akin to stepping into a bath, not unwelcome after the chill of the air conditioning. I had the place to myself. At this time most people here would be either preparing or dressing to go out for the evening meal. Sure enough, the muezzin’s call to prayer resonated around the empty pool bar, the signal during Ramadan that the long day’s fast is over. Indeed a delicious smell of cooking rose from the streets below. My stomach rumbled in anticipation, reminding me our own meal would soon be ready.

Most sunsets usually have me reaching for my camara and this was no exception. Of course the lens immediately misted over in the humidity. Not the greatest view, perhaps, but still worthy of a few shots particularly as it seemed to represent this city of contrasts quite well. As the mist on the screen settled, I tried to capture the moment.

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Another moment, the previous night from the Crown Plaza.

Shopping

11 Jul

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OK, so this might be a bit boring for some. The fact is, though, that shopping has been my main activity since arriving in Abu Dhabi. I have now become relatively familiar with four of the malls out here but more specifically the supermarkets in them. I know, I know – yawn! I guess you have to be in a similar situation to us to appreciate the significance.

For ex-pats, be they in a boat, a caravan, a villa or elsewhere, the quality of your life is very dependent on what you can buy to eat locally. If you can’t get the staples of your home country it is something of an adjustment to develop new eating habits. Of course, that can be a huge part of the attraction. Who wouldn’t want to buy fresh French bread from the local bakers every day? Well, I can tell you that the appeal can wear a bit thin when that delicious crust starts to make your jaw ache. How about all that wonderful, rich Greek cooking? You can get pretty sick of Feta cheese and long for a bit of decent Cheddar or Stilton.

Let’s face it, British supermarkets are pretty damn good. That’s not to say that other countries don’t have good ones too, but the sheer variety in, say, Tesco is hard to beat. So it came as something of a relief to discover the supermarkets out here are something worth writing about.

The first I came across was LuLu. With their headquarters in Abu Dhabi this is an international chain of hypermarkets. It was love at first sight. With the tagline that goes something like “Where the world comes to shop” they really do ‘get’ the multinational, multicultural needs of this city that consists of about 80% ex-pats. However, as most of these come from Asia, Africa and other Middle Eastern countries, the British taste is not as strongly catered for except in the form of American favourites and our fondness for curries. There are so many things, including even fruit and vegetables that I have never seen before let alone know how to cook with. More importantly for us, however, is that this is probably where we’ll be getting our white goods from when we can finally start equipping our kitchen.

Then there is the familiar Carrefour which is definitely worth the taxi ride. Slightly more up-market than LuLu, perhaps, this is also a hypermarket to get lost in (you can imagine how much Neil loves that!) and has more of the recognisable brands for us. This is one I’m looking forward to spending more of my time in when I’m on my own.

There is a Co-op in the mall nearest to our current apartment but this is not the chain Brits would be familiar with. To be honest I struggled here which is decidedly inconvenient for the next week or so. Yes, we are still hoping to be in our own apartment in the not too distant future where, wait for it, our local supermarket will be …. Waitrose! Apparently there was huge excitement among the British contingent when this opened. It even has a pork section hidden behind metal double doors with a sign specifying non Muslims only. Real bacon and sausages!

Then there are the malls themselves which are unbelievably quiet at the moment. You can get pretty much anything, clotheswise, from abayas to Prada. M&S even crops up along with Bhs and Boots. The latter, however, was a disappointment – the shop assistants had never heard of the Simple range which I rather depend on in the UK.

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I do have to mention IKEA. This is a pet hate of Neil’s with its meandering layout. There’s no getting away from the fact, however, that this is probably the cheapest place from which to equip a home. He’s getting quite familiar with it now. But it was not from here we made our first major purchase. On our excursions we spotted a table and chairs that we fell for straight away. We’ve ordered them today. On the slender evidence that the signed contract is now in the Abu Dhabi post office and the fact that we have a key, it will be delivered (imshallah) to our own apartment on Thursday. Milestone!

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First Days

8 Jul

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Summer in Abu Dhabi is not the time for sightseeing. Just as well, then, that we’re not here on holiday. Neil had an extra day off for the weekend of my arrival so it was time to get down to the serious business of shopping.

As usual on these rare occasions with Neil, the whole thing has to be done with a military precision. He doesn’t do browsing. To be fair, we had a lot to get through. Left to my own devices we would never have made the ever-growing list of things we need to buy for when we eventually have our own apartment. Ah, now there’s the rub.

You see, the owner of the apartment we want to rent, are committed to rent, has gone on holiday. For a month. To Canada. Without signing the contract. To cut a long story short, this means we now have to move out of the hotel where Neil has been staying for the last month and into a temporary holiday let. More expense. So our “shopping” trips were all about choosing the exact furniture and white goods we need to buy rather than actually buying them. The frustration continues.

In the meantime, then, we’ve been making the most of hotel living. Swimming is the only form of exercise that it is possible to do outside at the moment, so the rooftop pool, with its stunning views over this amazing city, is a regular part of our day. The mall, a couple of hundred metres away via the fan oven, is also another daily haunt. It seems a lot of the social life of the city takes place in the hotels and malls. This is curbed at the moment because I have arrived during Ramadan.

The Muslim holy month comes with severe restrictions. The observant are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours along with other, more private, abstinence. The mind should be focused on prayer and charity. With this in mind, the working day is reduced, offices and shops open for shorter hours and cafés, bars and restaurants remain closed during the day. Out of respect, those not observing the restrictions are also required not to eat or drink in public places. In fact it is against the law.

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It’s a different story come nightfall, though. The breaking of the fast is a social and communal activity. Come 7:15, as the call to prayer echoes around the city, there’s not a seat to be had in the mall’s food court and everywhere seems to come alive. Hotels and restaurants specialise in Iftars, a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet that traditionally breaks the fast, with the most amazing food, all beautifully presented. As those who have not been fasting are also welcome, we have been indulging. My expanding waistline can vouch for that.

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Arrival

5 Jul

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From the moment I stepped onto the plane it was apparent my life was changing. More used to the cattle class of the budget airlines, even Etihad’s “Coral” class seemed a cut above. The polyglot cabin crew in their unusual head gear seemed exotic and somehow out of place in drizzly Manchester. It wasn’t long, though, before it became plain that I was the one who was displaced.
Taking that first tentative step out of the chilly air-conditioned cabin into the Abu Dhabi evening was enough to make me realise I had left everything familiar behind. My mind couldn’t quite comprehend what had hit me. Suddenly engulfed in what I thought was the hot blast from the plane’s engine, it took me a few seconds to realise that this was the weather.
The fan-heater afternoons of a Greek summer hadn’t prepared me for this. I’ve been trying to find some way to describe the sensation and can only come up with standing in front of a giant and powerful tumble dryer vent. The humidity is staggering. My glasses immediately steamed up and as I gripped the steel pole of the shuttle bus my hand slipped in the condensation.
It soon became apparent that the majority of my fellow passengers weren’t terminating their journey here but were travelling further afield. This meant that there was no comforting crocodile of people heading for baggage collection or the exit. No problem, I could follow the signs which were in both Arabic and, thankfully, English. Except suddenly I was in a shopping centre. Not a sign to be seen, just a queue snaking its way between the stores. It was only my aversion to standing in line that stopped me joining it and searching furthur afield.
Once I was back on track, though, it was plain sailing. My cases were already going round on the carousel, a luggage trolley was at hand and Customs didn’t bat an eye. Best of all, there was Neil waving to me. Suddenly I was right at home.