Archive | October, 2014

Grand Mosque Visit

30 Oct

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the “must visit” destination in Abu Dhabi as unlike other mosques it is open to the general public (except on Friday mornings). We’d put off going until the weather had cooled down a bit and had reckoned we’d given ourselves plenty of time to make the first English tour. Missing the exit off the highway didn’t help (yes, it could be better signposted) but we’d also underestimated the time it would take to get me fixed up with an abaya to wear inside. I thought I was already suitably dressed but my shirt sleeves weren’t long enough.

Ah well, it was an experience. I’ve always thought this mode of dress was actually very flattering but it goes to show that even with what is apparently a uniform garment you get what you pay for. The one I was wearing was free. Let’s just say that I am more aware of the intricacies involved in what makes it pleasing to the eye and probably cooler, too. Anyway, we missed the tour and instead got a very modern, touch-screen audio-guide. Very good it was, too, and free as well.

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Built of the finest of everything – pure-white Grecian marble, Venetian Murano glass, Austrian Swarovski crystals, semi-precious stones and gold, of course – the mosque dazzles in every sense of the word. Modern (completed in 2007) yet traditional, it is said to be a fusion of the styles of the Muslim world. It also houses the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, made by some 1,200 artisan Iranian women, some flown in to Abu Dhabi especially for the task of completing it. I don’t think this is why you have to take your shoes off when entering the main prayer hall but it must help.

Sheikh Zayed brought together designers, features, materials and suppliers from nearly every corner of the globe to build his mosque wanting it to be a unifying landmark. It is fitting that he is entombed in its grounds.

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Marble columns inlaid with blue lapis lazuli, red agate, the violet of amethyst, the iridescent blues, greens and purples of abalone shell and creamy white mother of pearl.

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Built of marble and onyx even the ablutions are worth a visit so don’t miss stopping off at the toilets on the way out!

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Life’s A Beach

22 Oct

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The weather here in Abu Dhabi is steadily getting a little cooler and a little less humid, most days at least. After sticking largely to air- conditioned comfort for weeks we’re looking forward to spending more time outside and our sights are set on the beaches. They are worth a look, too. Coming from the UK and being more familiar with European beaches, it’s difficult at first, however, to get your head round having to pay for the privilege.

In Greece even Onassis couldn’t own the sea around his private island. If you wanted to drop an anchor right next to his beach you could. Mind you, you would also have to put up with the close scrutiny of the gun-touting security guards watching your every move. Growing up in Britain, of course, if you can reach the coast, from Land’s End to John O’Groats the seashore is your playground. Balmedi to Blackpool, Bridlington to Brighton and over the water to Ballycastle, beaches galore for everyone.

But this is Abu Dhabi where commerce is king, and the seafront is prime real estate in an ever growing city. Some villas and apartments have their own patch of sand exclusively for their residents and many hotels reserve one for their guests, perhaps the best belonging to the Emirates Palace. Some, for a fee, will allow day members to use their pools and access the salty stuff.

As the more tourist-orientated islands of Yas and Saadiyat develop, the phenomenon of the Beach Club has sprung up. After giving your wallet a hefty whacking you can wallow in the sheer luxury of a sun bed by an infinity pool, thick towels and waiters serving you drinks or spraying a cooling mist should you be so uncultured as to perspire but also, for a little extra, your own private cabana. We’ve yet to try this. Instead we headed for the Corniche. This is on the main island, in spitting distance of Downtown and has a rare public beach along part of its 8km length where you can simply plonk your own towel on the sand and enjoy.

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We decided to go a little more exclusive though. What? Oh, yes! For Dhs10 (about £1.70) to enter and a further Dhs25 each for a sun bed sheltered by a good sized shade you can spend a very pleasurable few hours, all day if you wish, for the grand total of about 12 quid per couple. For this you get to lie above the golden sand with the turquoise sea a few steps away, along with clean if limited shower, changing room and toilet facilities. The sea is warm, flat calm and gently shelving. You can’t swim out very far, floating fences and an observant life guard ensure you stay within 40 meters and away from the ubiquitous jet skis. It’s a bargain so get there early.

Dubai

11 Oct

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Dubai is only a couple of hours down the road from us and with the temperatures now 10° or so cooler than when I arrived, i.e. upper 30’s, the Eid long weekend seemed like a good opportunity to spend some time there. Abu Dhabi may be the capital of the UAE but Dubai got a 30 year start on erecting its glass towers. Much of it is still a building site but what is already there is stunning. Home to the world’s tallest building and biggest mall, well, that’s just the headlines.

Some unashamedly personal pictures:

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The stunning waterfall inside the Dubai Mall. It cascades through several floors and some restaurants have tables next to it.

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A particularly posh end of the mall where all the designer names have stores. Even the cafe is Armani.

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More art work on a grand scale in the mall – thousands of birds feature in this one.

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Dubai Marina – not many liveaboard’s here!

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Ariel view of the Marina.

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And at night – great view to accompany a few cocktails before dinner. Living the highlife, literally.

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A couple of glasses of Prosecco the following night. Cool enough to spend some time outside at last.

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It’s not all high rises. Does this make anyone else think of the Beatles? OK, not really.

Soft as Nails

8 Oct

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I’ve never really been able to grow my nails. The popularity of all the nail salons that have sprung up everywhere in recent years was beyond my understanding. When a substantial area in my hairdresser’s was turned over to this weird practice I gawped through the mirror as client after client offered their hands to this interloper.

I do remember painting my nails as a teenager, not entirely successfully it must be said. Then came the terrible Monday I forgot to take it off before going to school. First lesson of the day was chemistry (how mean is that?) The teacher took one look at me and made some comment about dipping my fingers in blood and produced tissues soaked in acetone with instructions to “get that muck off”. The laughter and humiliation was enough to ensure I didn’t forget again.

A working life in nursing began at 18 and only the shortest, scrubbed and unadorned finger nails were possible. I must have played around with varnish on my days off but I can’t imagine the stumpy ends of my fingers ever looked good. Besides, boys were supposed to prefer girls with clean, plain nails weren’t they? I’m sure I remember reading that in ‘Jackie’ at an impressionable age.

I was in my forties before I tried again. My trendy sister-in-law had been training in the whole dark art that is the manicure and offered to give me a false set before I went on holiday. I still remember the awe and delight of this unexpected pleasure, the thrill of waving my adorned hands about in ever-increasing dramatic gestures.

The practicalities for someone not used to dealing with extended fingers soon intervened, however. It wasn’t long before they were looking decidedly tatty and my attempts to ‘touch them up a bit’ only made matters worse. So with a return to work fast approaching I resigned myself to the tub of chemicals reluctantly purchased to remove the falsies.

Life on a sailing boat is more likely to decorate the body with cuts and bruises than lengthy fingernails while the casual life bumming around in a caravan never suggested nail varnish. So it’s only now we’re hobnobbing in places like the Emerates Palace and the Ritz Carlton that it occurred to me to try again and nervously book myself a manicure.

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It wasn’t as much fun as I’d expected. When the autoclaved pack of surgical instruments arrived it was positively alarming, in fact. With the rather scornful statement that I “don’t go for manicure in England” my cuticles were, somewhat painfully, put in order. Even choosing the colour of nail varnish was more intimidating than pleasurable with the vast array to pick from. Hell, I didn’t know what would suit me or go with what outfit or whatever criteria you are supposed to use when selecting. I plumped for a pale brownish-pink as the least scary.

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Then it came to paying. It turns out that three coats of nail varnish take longer to dry than you might expect. And taking a credit card out of a handbag, out of a purse and into a card reader is likely to undo the previous half hour’s work. I’ll be better prepared next time. Oh yes, I’m hooked.

Cleaning Windows

3 Oct

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Living now in a capital city I’m frequently reminded how provincial I am. Never more so than when they started cleaning the widows outside the tower we  live in and I looked outside to see this guy:

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We don’t do it like this in North Wales.

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So there’s me rushing out to the pool area, clutching the camera. I’m gawping up at this astonishing sight of eight or so blokes dangling on ropes 70 odd stories up. Just me. Everyone else just carried on like it was an everyday sight. Which it probably is.

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