Archive | September, 2014

Celebration

29 Sep

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It was our wedding anniversary at the weekend and that coupled with the fact that I am now the proud owner of an UAE ID card (Yay!) was definite cause for a celebration. A Friday Brunch was called for. But not just any old brunch, oh no. We booked for the Ritz Carlton.

In a city full of 5 star hotels, 7 stars even, the name alone conjures up something special. We were not disappointed. No, it is not as glitzy as the Emerates Palace but the huge marble entrance foyer and the wide sweeping staircase down to the restaurants leaves you in no doubt that this is a classy establishment. For the Friday brunch they open up all the different restaurants to buffet selections and cooking stations. Perhaps if I tell you they provide a pop-up map for each table so you can find your way around it might give you some idea of the bewildering array of food.

I can’t imagine anyone gets to try everything. We had a pretty good attempt, though.

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In Search of the Desert

24 Sep

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From the moment you leave the airport buildings in Abu Dhabi you can’t fail to be aware that this is a capital city built on the desert. I know I keep mentioning this fact but it really is quite remarkable. Ever since I arrived I’ve wanted to see the desert beyond the city. Last weekend I persuaded Neil we should go and have a look. It turns out you have to try quite hard to find it.

There is an area known as The Empty Quarter which is the obvious place but you really shouldn’t head out there lightly. In an ordinary saloon car and not really having a clue where to go we were sensible enough not to try.

The second largest city in the Emirate is Al Ain, a couple of hours drive away. We figured there must be some desert between the two. As you head out on the multi-lane highway, it initially takes some time to get out of the ever-expanding suburbs. After that the area alongside the highway has been put to use for agriculture and, believe it or not, forestation. As we got closer and closer to Al Ain glimpses of dunes of a reddish sand could be seen occasionally but it was hardly spectacular.

The only way we were going to get close was to get off the highway. Eventually we came across the trucker’s road. It is rare to see a lorry in Abu Dhabi. Now we know why – they have their own purpose built road. This was a simple two-way traffic, single lane affair without the frippery of palm trees or even barriers. And there was the desert. Plus miles and miles of electrity pilons.

So not exactly the experience we were looking for but worth a photograph or two. I’m going to have to do a bit more research on the whole desert thing.

Changes

20 Sep

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I’ve only been here in Abu Dhabi a little over a fortnight but it feels much longer, slipping into some sort of routine and making myself at home straight away. It does seem a very different place, though, from when I was here last.

The summer is coming to an end and most of those who left to avoid the restrictions of Ramadan or just to escape the worst of the heat are now back. The schools have opened again, making it much busier generally. Many of the restaurants and cafes that closed during the low season have reopened and there’s much more of a buzz generally now that music and entertainment is allowed again (banned during Ramadan). I hadn’t even realised that there were no fountains (too frivolous, presumably) until they were switched on again. There’s even one clearly visable through our windows that I just hadn’t seen before.

We’ve discovered the Friday Brunches out here that have now started again and are something of an institution. Basically they are all you can eat (and drink) buffets that every hotel around here does each Friday lunch time. I’m not sure why they call them brunches unless it’s something to do with it being a good idea not to eat breakfast so you can eat more at lunch! It should be a whole different scene again once it cools down enough to sit outside as many buffets will include a barbeque by the pool or beach. It is our ambition to try all of them within taxi range and have already made a good start.

We still find it too hot to really enjoy most of the touristy things we want to do, although it is definitely a bit cooler – lower rather than upper 40’s. Still very humid most days, though. We’ve been told this disappears mid November, like someone has thrown a switch, they said. Others have already taken to sitting outside, particularly in the evening, but for the time being we prefer to keep to the air conditioned comfort. However the marina on Yas Island keeps drawing us back for a lunch time visit. Well, you know us and boats.

Status

Medical

17 Sep

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I don’t know if I should say this, probably not, but things seem to be progressing with my visa. Yesterday saw me attending the centre for the medical screening side of things and the security part for my ID card.

As a nurse, whose most recent job has been in an out patient setting, I found the whole medical side fascinating so please forgive me for waffling on at length. Neil had warned me that there were two “tracks”, standard and a faster sort of VIP track for which you pay more. It is definitely worth the extra. Mind you, I was never actually asked which service I wanted. It was just assumed I knew enough now to pick the faster route. From experience he also knew it was a good idea to arrive early, too.

So the process goes like this: I turn up at the front desk clutching my prized pink form and passport now returned to me with a new sticker on the front that is going to be a pain to remove when the day comes (Incidentally, all stickers of any description out here are seemingly impossible to remove). I’m instructed to go to a nearby desk to get them both photocopied and go upstairs. After handing over payment for the photocopying (pence) I head up the stairs to another desk, the copies are taken from me, and I pay up (about 40 quid), cash only, and get a card in return. I’m pointed in the direction of the Women Only waiting room. From here on in no men are allowed which seems to include medical staff.

Another desk and my paperwork is taken and half a dozen labels, prepared there and then, are attached ready for use. Now, to the unknowing eye, there doesn’t seem to be anything exceptional about any of this so far. But you have no idea of the palaver involved in the out patients department back home if the notes had run out of sticky labels. These were relatively huge with personal details including address printed on them. The ones that were now attached to my forms were tiny in comparison and had a bar code.

Through out the next stages I was told precisely where to go and sit, the process moving along like a smooth conveyer belt but I had absolutely no idea who was who or what I was waiting for at any time. The first cubical contained a woman (a doctor maybe?) who asked if I had any medical problems, tapped something into a computer and told me to go to another cubical. Here another woman (Nurse? Phlebotomist?) took blood and told me to go to another desk.

My paperwork was taken again and I was told to go into a room and remove my bra. I guessed I was about to have a chest x-ray but most of the women waiting to go into the changing cubical had no idea what was going on. Fortunately there was a group of new nurses being processed themselves also waiting who helped explain about putting on gowns etc to those not in the know. This was the only bottleneck in the whole system, two cubicles being nowhere near enough and the room to wait for them being far too small. As I was wearing a simple T-shirt I opted for doing that thing where you remove your bra via the sleeve, much to the amazement of some of the more well-covered women, and joined the queue for the x-ray room.

It wasn’t long before I was heading out with the simple instruction “all done” and rejoined Neil for the ID part of the process. Fortunately, the building for this is next door to the medical centre. You might even think someone had thought to plan it that way. Again I had no idea what was going on but it all happened very quickly. Digital fingerprinting, digital signature and another rabbit-in-the-headlights photograph all at the same well set up row of similar stations. Efficient in the extreme.

Sunday is the New Monday

13 Sep

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As if the time difference wasn’t enough to mess with your body clock, living in Abu Dhabi can seriously mess with your body calendar. No, I’m not talking about the weather. It’s the working week that has got my head in a spin.

So (as they’d say on Pipit), Friday is the holy day and more like Sunday. Saturday is like Saturday only without the lie-in next day and roast dinners are often the lunch time speciality. And Sunday is Monday. Which means, of course, that Thursday is the new Friday and, in this city full of youngsters, you just have to go out. Which leads to Friday Brunch. Although a meal that doesn’t start until after midday is lunch in my book. Mind you, you’d be wise not to have breakfast. And you certainly won’t want dinner.

Yes, I think that explains it very nicely.

City of Contrasts

8 Sep

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Now I know I’m back in Abu Dhabi. Sitting in the food court of the Al Wahda Mall I was struck again by the contrasts in this amazing city that has so relatively recently sprung up from the desert sand. There I was, sipping my diet cola as I waited for a shop to open, relaxing in the sunlight under the glass roof as the air was cooled around me, bright enough to need sunglasses yet not exposed to the harsh elements of the outside.

The tempting smell of cinnamon drifted over from the nearby cake stand as the morning prayers were sung through the loud speakers. Even in this palace of mammon the traditional ways still hold sway. Yet all around me were the American fast food joints with their Lebanese, Thai and Indian equivalents and many of the high street stores westerners would be familiar with. 

I had positioned myself in a good spot to view the comings and goings around me. Dish dasha and abaya clad locals rode the escalator alongside those in skinny jeans and strappy tops. Women wearing beautiful coloured hijabs passed yummy mummies in Armani and heels.

The shop I’d been waiting for was the photographers. I needed another, different, picture to continue with my visa application, the four they already have being insufficient. Another hurdle successfully jumped. Tick.

As my Sri Lankan taxi driver drove me home (the one who’d brought me was Nepalese, his home in the foot hills of Mount Everest) we chatted about our families and the city we were both so newly getting acquainted with, both looking forward to the cooler weather, both only familiar with the other’s home country from TV and movies. What a remarkable place this is, bringing the world to its doorstep.