Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yes UAE, there is a Santa Claus… with apologies to Francis Church

The holiday season conjures up many memories and hopes for various people; the hope for a desired present, remembering Christmases past, and eating your weight in chocolate AND turkey. For me it’s like the sight of my name EVERYWHERE that warms my heart. ‘Tis my season, Joy to the World, and all that jazz. Shallow, I know. But at least I am honest.

This was my first Christmas in a different country (continent) and a Muslim one at that. But, as I have learned, if there is flash and glam involved, the UAE is in with both pockets. So there were Christmas trees, carols in the shops, red Starbucks cups and crowds in the malls. If I let my mind wander, I could imagine I was home.

Minus the snow. Did I mention I am not missing the snow? I am not. I mean, I could have handled a few flakes on Christmas day but, I’m ok. Sorry to my dear Canadian friends reading this but if I never have to scrape off my car windows at -30 again, my life is still complete.

The last day of school prior to the holiday was the usual; lots of hyper kids and a few presents. A student gave me an ornament that said “JOY” so my streak continues. I had my car packed as the day of work for three weeks slowly ticked down. At the 3pm bell I was in the driver seat and aimed towards Al Ain. Hellllllo holidays.

For those of you who skimmed my previous posts you have seen Al Ain. It’s a perfect little desert gem. I am also able to find the malls, grocery stores, and the liquor store (it is important) all on my own. Thank you Darren for the patient lessons. Al Ain is a city that is navigated through roundabouts. You can see in some areas that they are abandoning this for the allure of traffic lights. Oooooh traffic lights. But I love Al Ain…

Now I know what you are thinking. Poor Joy, in a foreign country for her holidays … sniff sniff. Well, dry your eyes, I had a fabulous time. Darren had a busy opening weekend planned: a coworkers Christmas party full of cheer and turkey, brunch at the top of the Burj Al Arab followed by a chorale presentation of Christmas classic carols back in Al Ain and turkey meal number two within a 24 hr period.

Back to the Burj for a moment . Holy. Holy Allah, God and Buddha all in one. This is an amazing place, and if you are ever in the ‘hood, GO. There was a buffet of food that stretched beyond the gaze of my eyes. Maybe that’s because my eyes saw lobster and just stopped. I feasted on lobster, crab, some crazy beef that heard classical music and got massages until it met its unwanted end. Oh there was cake with gold flecks in it. I mean GOLD. White chocolate, fruit, chocolate fountains, seriously… stop me! Suffice it to say, anyone that comes over here gets to go there with me. Just saying…

At this point I have eaten non-stop for two days… Might have been time for an intervention. Alas, Darren had to go back to work (side note: different holidays are not fun) and I quickly settled into a routine of mall crawling, buying/hiding/wrapping presents and relaxing in bed with a book each morning. Of course having food served to me there only encouraged such decadent behaviour.

Oh there was a Christmas tree. And lights, and music, and chocolates. There were so many presents that the poor little tree was somewhat dwarfed. Don’t worry, when you see the pictures the tree is not full sized. That would make us both spoiled. Wait, we were/are.

So what else did I do… Watched movies- Avatar in 3D is a must, and Sherlock Holmes is what every movie should be… Went quad’ing in the dunes for New Years Eve. Amazing sights. I only broke two quads and neither one was really my fault. Drank a vat of mulled wine. Played games and thoroughly enjoyed each moment. You know when you realize how lucky you are and it sorta warms you all over? I had those feelings often. You can call it the desert temperature but I know differently.

And I haven’t even gotten to my wonderful presents! Basically, as I have inferred (ok, stated) previously I was spoiled. Things I didn’t know I wanted, things I realized I needed and things that made me stop and realize Darren is great at listening when I ramble. That’s a GREAT sign. As holidays go, this one was special for more than one reason… Christmas has a way of making little moments the big ones and those are the ones that matter.

My holiday mattered.

PS. Did I mention I cooked a FEAST?! I did. Check out the pics.

Entering the Burj Al Arab for an amazing brunch.

This tree was covered in JOY ornaments. Love it!

The view from Al Muntaha Restaurant on the 27th floor.

Still on the 27th floor (aka 200 metres above sea level).

Taking a break from quading to see if fingers could be lost. They weren't.

He was so cute. I think it was best he couldn't see me.

Yeah you love it. Check out my hot quad. That might have been no.3 on the day.

Yummmmmmmmmers. And I cooked it all. For real.

Ho!Ho!Ho! Santa found us. Yay for the "nice" list.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paris! I've got your Paris.

I love Paris in the Springtime… I love Paris in the Fall. Ok, it truly felt like winter. The sun kissed desert life has spoiled me, softened me to any temperature below 15 in the Winter sun.

We landed in Charles de Gaulle via the sunny Kingdom of Bahrain and swiftly pulled our bag off the conveyor. Here is where I should mention that our suitcase came out first. That has to be some sort of miracle. Winter coats were immediately pulled out of the suitcase, hats donned and hands encased in warm winter mittens (ok, gloves).

Now I should mention that I have 8 years of French education. I should also mention that education ended in 1993. Madame MacInnis would have been so proud of me as I asked for “deux billets pour Paris”. Don’t you sneer at that… It was very well pronounced. Our train left platform two shortly after we boarded. It was a Saturday morning, a rainy day, my first day ever in Paris.

I was not aware that trains in Paris came with an accordion player. Nothing like a rousing tune from a well tuned (how would I know) accordion at 8:30 in the morning to set the tone for a vacation in the City of Lights. The outskirts of Paris did not warm my heart. It was brown and wet and just looked used. Used up. But as we neared city centre you started to see amazing buildings, quaint houses and signs of life.

We got off the train at Chatelet des Halles and walked to our hotel, Emeraude Hotel Louvre Montana, on Rue Saint-Roch. Cobblestone streets, narrow winding roads, puddles at each corner and a crisp November wind wrapping around me the entire way. I was rubbernecking like a pure tourist when a hand on my shoulder turned me to face my left and stopped me in my tracks. The Eiffel Tower met my gaze in all its ugly steal grandeur. Now it is not pretty, not in the harsh light of day. I now understood the “metal asparagus” comments I had read about in my treasured (and abused) Lonely Planet. But it is impressive. I could not stop looking to my left as we sought out the hotel.

The hotel was tucked down a tiny side street off of Rue Rivoli. It was small, as most are in Paris, but it was wonderful. We were checking in hours ahead of normal check-in times, but they locked up our suitcase and told us we could check in in an hour. A lovely family from Georgia waiting in the lobby for their taxi to take them back to the airport filled us in on their Paris highlights and recommended a restaurant around the corner for our breakfast. Petit dejeuner here we come!

Now I could write pages about Paris. I could go on forever about the virtues in a single styrofoam cup of vin chaud or the taste of a warm croissant at 8 am as we strolled the streets. The white Christmas lights illuminating Champs Elysees or the sparkling light show on the Eiffel Tower each night. But, I would never write it properly and you would never get to feel how my heart warmed as the temperature dropped.

So… highlights in a nutshell:Strolling the Champs Elysees with its Christmas crowds and vendors with vin chaud and chocolate crepes.

Wine in general. Lunch, supper, evening strolls, hot or cold. Yummy red wine.

The top of the Eiffel Tower on our last night. Whipping winds and the panoramic view of the city I had just fallen in love with.

A cup of coffee/tea each morning with a variety of fresh pastries from the patisserie each morning. Followed by a walk. Oh we walked.

Versailles. You can’t imagine people lived in such an opulent lifestyle. I would have cut off more than their heads. Just saying.

Sacre Coeur, and the walk through Montmartre to get there. Hello Moulin Rouge… Ewan McGregor, where were you?!

A ride on the La Grande Roue, that’s a ferris wheel to you non francais speakers, beside the Jardin des Tuileries. This was my first ever ferris wheel ride. Might as well go big. Yes, I was scared.

Standing in line for the Musee D’Orsay only to have the security guards come out with a sign (laminated at that) that announced they were on strike. All the museums went on strike. Solidarity is alive and thriving in Paris. Nothing like a trip to a city of culture only to find you are locked out of the best museums. Ok, this was not a highlight. But it is now kinda funny to think about. At the time, not so funny.

Ok, I am doing what I said I wouldn’t… I am rambling on forever. Best that you go to Paris and form your own stories. Just be sure to share some highlights with me…

I miss Paris. It was truly a city that made me smile brighter each day. Its people, history, food, and secret gems. J’adore Paris… à bientôt.

Night falls on St. Michel

Versailles... strolling for supper.

Stop taking my picture!

Ile St. Louis at sunset.

Seeing the light in Notre Dame.

And this is my ferris wheel. Wheel of Terror (named by me).

Sunset at the Concorde.

Attempting to get over my fear of clowns. It rained and he lost some scary facepaint.

Champs Elysees lit up for Christmas!

Metal asparagus... in all its illuminated glory.

View from the TOP of the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived! The Paris adventure starts.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Public Abattoir... here little sheepy sheep...

So I went to the abattoir. Not shopping, just snapping... shots. Now this is the market where you browse the meat selection while it still has a pulse. Puts Sobeys meat counter to shame. But it also makes you a little "too" aware of what is on your plate. Not that I am dishing up some mutton anytime soon. On the contrary.

Went to the market and the workers were more than helpful. They insisted on having me pet the camels and take shots inside their cages. Camels are amazing looking creatures. Oh that perma smile, the dazed eyes and awkward gait. Makes you laugh...

Here... so much easier to follow with pictures... what, 1000 words and all that jazz...

Hi. I'm your overly friendly camel stall tour guide. Want to wear my sweaty headpiece? Really, I don't mind.... Ewwwwwww. He did try to put it on my head. I politely refused with a look of abject horror on my face. But he was kind enough to take me in to see this five day old camel. The mom was having none of it and kept the baby as far away from me as possible. I respected her wishes. Hey, she was in a cage... let's give her some respect.

Niiiiiiiice camel. Nice 50,000 dirham camel. I keep pulling back because it keeps wanting to get closer. Nooo thank you Mr. Camel. I saw you on that pack of smokes. Seriously, wise men rode in on these things?!

Mama and baby from another angle. So cute. That little gaffer could hardly stand up. She (mom) is decorated for the coming Muslim festival over here.

Hey.... nice Lexus. Oh wait. Is that the model that holds two sheep comfortably in the trunk? Oh, sorry, this is the model that holds them in a state of complete terror until the meet their halal end. Oh, sweet ride.

You in there little sheep? Watch your head... I'm slamming this sucker closed now. Be good mutton.

Hey! Nothing to see here... just some sheep in the trunk. C'mon, everyone's got some...
And boys and girls, that was my afternoon at the Public Abattoir.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What is this thing called "internet"...

I tell ya, it's something I have at home now. Love it.

Where to begin... I have a couple of stories. Let's start of with...

Knock-off bag shopping in Dubai.

Replica, fake, imitation, knockoff... whatever your phrasing it's all the same thing. Only the shopping experience may differ. Now, I have been to Canal St. in NYC (and I've seen the CSI episode) but I have to say, Dubai knockoff shopping is tops. Five of us loaded into a Skoda Fabia (I dare you to google THAT) and headed out on E11 to the city of luxury, the city of over indulgence, Dubai... kinda sounds like to-buy when you say it fast huh? We maneuvered through the construction until we reached the Karama area. Picture dodgy streets, no parking, fabulous Indian restaurants combating with the stench of well cooked garbage bins, and a tiny area of stip malls in a quad. We made it.

{Editor's note: sound of angels singing should be heard in stereo now}

Fortunately we had an expert on hand. Erin, our seasoned vet had been through this process before. FYI, did you know you should ask the seller to burn the bag. Real leather won't burn in under 15 seconds but plastic will singe in a second. You can steal that tip. The process is this: walk into a shop, and then ask where the "good" bags are. Odds are they will take you upstairs. Once there, smile and say, "Now, where are the really good bags?" This is when secret doors will appear or a man will come to take you to another location hidden in an apartment or warehouse. We went through a secret panel in the wall and found the motherload of fabulous fakes. Louis, Hermes, Chanel and all their friends were living in this secret room. Bags, wallets, scarves, watches, sunglasses, bikinis (yes you read that right) were all there for the bartering.

Enter the bartering. You find the bags you like, show the seller your pile and start talking cash. They will start high and you will work slowly and painfully lower... swearing that if you hear "best price" one more time you might scream. Needless to say, I bought two. A Tod's and a Hermes Birkin bag... Both have a special place with me now. And the ONE bag I brought with me has been relegated to a drawer in the spare bedroom. It served me well. Adieu bag, adieu.

Come over and I'll take you shopping... You will never experience anything so odd in your life. And... at the end of it all, you could have a fabulous bag. Win-win.

Story number two... not nearly as fun.

My border run to Oman.

So my "visitor's" visa has run its course and I needed to leave the country and start it all over again. I went to Oman in a SUV our school HR man was driving... a man who has no regard for speed bumps, limits or laws. And he felt the need to buy us cheese bread covered in olives (ugh, dirt wheels) at 10:30 at night. The border is about 1.5 hrs away, one way, and the entire process took over 6 hours. Shoot me now. Talk about relaxed borders. I am not sure one man actually looked at my passport and compared it to me. I should have sent a lookalike.

The plus side: I went to another country. The downside: it was dark and I didn't see it for the 10 minutes I was there.

But... I am legal again.

That's it for now.

Miss me a little... it makes me feel good.

Pictures to follow.

Much love,

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Remember me??

Hope so…

My adventures have kept me busy and the lack of internet in my apartment has limited this lovely blog. I know, you are all shattered and lost without constant updates. Maybe I’ll devote a prep a day to this… I have 15 a week so it’s doable.

Things here are great (minus the internet blockade and an ear infection)… Ramadan is over so we now are working “full” days, and I can eat and drink in the sunlight hours. I was giddy when I walked into the Bawadi Mall in Al Ain and I realized people were in coffee shops. I tell ya, you go for 30 days where you can’t eat or drink in public during the day and then get back to me on how day 31 feels. Bliss…

I have seen most malls within a 1.5 hour drive of Abu Dhabi. Malls are a competition here… they need to be the biggest, most extreme: hello, you have a life-sized junk in your mall, oh sorry, these guys have an aquarium… BUT these guys have a ski hill. Winner. Yeah. Then there is the actual shopping.

Dubai has the world’s tallest building and more construction than Nova Scotia during an election year. Al Ain has a mountain that is amazing to drive up, with lush green grounds along the base where people come to picnic and relax. You don’t realize how much you miss green until you see it. I am pretty full on sand coloured anything…

Work, you know, the reason I am over here, is great. Kids are good and they keep coming… received 2 new ones this week. Basically my classroom is a model UN… kids from Chile, USA, England, Egypt, Canada… all over. I start my day at eight and the kids leave at three. My biggest class has 14 kids. I am not overworked, let’s leave it at that!

My apartment is slowly becoming my own space. I need to get some pictures up soon. I miss those. I have cable. Oprah is a day late but I somehow survive. And this weekend I am going to buy myself a Wii. I know, sounds silly for a grown woman but anything for some entertainment. People, I am in the desert.

I had a father tell me yesterday at our school’s open house that if I stay over here too long my brain will shrink and I’ll get desert madness… My question: how long is too long?

Ok… I’m going to keep this one brief but I’ll update this weekly, I promise. Keep me honest on this!


View from Jebel Hafeet

More of the view


Mountain from the base

Roundabout featuring the Sheikh

Monday, September 7, 2009

I've decided to stay...

So I unpacked. It's official, I am moved in.

My apartment is taking on a joyous life of its own. I have started to change things to the way I like it, and add in colours and accents that make it more "me". Have I mentioned my fabulous bowl I got for my dining room table? Pictures to follow... just imagine the most fabulous purple bowl your mind can conceive and you still don't have it. That's how much I love it.

My wardrobe is now full of my wardrobe. But... there was a slight tragedy I realized this morning... my favourite tee shirt is nowhere to be found. My California Angels tee is awol and I am slightly upset by this... so Mom, if you find it, I might want it mailed. Sadly I think it's in Troy all on its own.

I want visitors. I have a spare room and this place is a must see... trust me!

I am even remembering how to cook and clean. The time in the hotel did not ruin me, as many feared. And I do love my washer/dryer in one machine. It's a welcome treat... and once more, I am living in a place that does not have a dishwasher... I think that is my fate.

Oh so happy in Khalifa B,


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Coming over?

Because I officially have a guest room...

Here it is, your long awaited tour of my new place. First off, I love it. As far as apartments I have lived in, this is easily the nicest. And the newest. There are some kinks... the generators we are running off of switch at 7:15 so there are two power outages a day. You really need to remember to reset the a/c when that happens. There are so many switches that I have no idea what some of them are for... and there is one outlet in my kitchen. Hello power bar! Sorry Mom, I know you don't trust those. Oh and you need to flip a switch for hot water. It's all very foreign to me. And I love it.

But... those are all minor, so minor. I have a beautiful two bedroom apartment all to myself. I could talk (well, write) a lot about it but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves at this point. More personal decorative touches to come this weekend.

So, please feel invited... I have a room for guests and it's begging to be used!

Here's to moving!

Kitchen... oh the meals I'll be making :)

Washing machine in the kitchen. Yes, you read that right.

Bathroom... you get it.

Living room with the view of the dining room table/chairs in the back.

Entertainment unit... tv is still to arrive.

Bedroom! This is the duvet cover my apartment came with...

Bedroom again...

My wardrobe and my still packed wardrobe.