Saturday, March 31, 2012

Visitor Adventures: Heritage Village

The thing about the Friday brunch is that it doesn't feel very Arabic - you're in a hotel, drinking alcohol with every kind of food you can think of, Pop music in the background ... So, Saturday's adventures were designed to give everyone a better idea of Abu Dhabi and a taste of the Middle East.

Our first stop was supposed to be the Emirate's Palace, but due to a wedding and conference, we weren't allowed in unless we had and invite, which we didn't. So, U-Turn and off the Heritage Village.

The Heritage Village is one of the few places in Abu Dhabi that hasn't been torn down and replaced by a sparkly building or mall. The idea is to showcase traditional Arabian culture so there are a number of different housing types on display, some animals, some local craftsmen, a small museum and a small market selling an interesting combination of local handicrafts and tourist junk.

And the place was packed! This was actually our first time to visit when the village was open and we couldn't believe the number of people. I think we saw 3-4 huge tour buses parked outside.

We started with some time in the little market and our visitors bought a few things and even tried to bargain, but with all the tour bus folks, the vendors were firm on their prices - a change I've seen in the short year I've been here. And too bad, as the bargaining is part of what makes shopping in the local markets so fun for me.

After the market, we wandered over to see the camel and the houses.

The sun was pretty hot and this whole area was sand, so everyone got a small taste of the desert heat and walking challenges.

We walked through the rest of the village and stopped in the local craft exhibits and the small museum. Everything was a bit small, but good to at least see some of the culture being preserved in this city of sparkles. A few more pics for you.

 Handmade pottery workshop
 Leather goods workshop
 Courtyard area by the workshops
Weavers - those aren't paintings hanging on the walls, they are woven carpets - stunning!

At this point, the crowds and the sun and that fact that it was past lunchtime, helped us decide to head back to the apartment for some Lebanese take-away. Then a nap for the visitors so everyone would be well rested for the Desert Safari later that afternoon.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Visitor Adventures: Brunch and a lovely walk

My next few posts have two goals: 1) to share the adventures we had with my parents and their friends as they visited Abu Dhabi for the first time, and 2) to invoke enough jealousy in all of you that you decide to come visit too. ;)

To say our visitors were busy would be considered an understatement to some and about right to others. Really depends on how you like to travel and vacation. For our travelers, the motto was "We came here to see stuff, not sit around. What's on the agenda today?" But don't panic if your motto is "We came to relax, not run around all day" because we can accommodate that schedule too.

After a day of settling in and a relaxing dinner at our house, we headed out on Friday for brunch. You've heard me go on about the Friday brunches before, and it's an event that all who visit Abu Dhabi must experience. An all you can eat buffet that runs from about 12:30 until 4:00 in the afternoon (I know, I don't know why they call it brunch either). Here's a small taste of the yumminess.

That's just the desert station, and the frame wasn't big enough to get in the chocolate fountain at the far end. Decadence!

The drink specialty was mojitos, so we tried one of each (well, almost, no one was brave enough to try the sweet chili mojito): traditional, pomegranate, cucumber watermelon, pineapple ginger, strawberry and date. They were all pretty good too.

After eating our weight, we decided a walk would be a good thing and would give our visitors a chance to see some of the city, so we headed off towards the Corniche, which is the road along the coastline and a beautiful place to walk. The sky was relatively clear for this time of year and the temps very comfortable with a decent breeze. Here is a photo of one of the parks we passed along the way. The coffee urns make the entrance to the park.

This is the only photo Brian and I took of the walk, but I'm very sure my Dad (a photo fanatic) probably has about 100. If you see him, ask about his photos only if you've got a few hours to spare! :)

After a nice walk, we caught a taxi back to their apartment and called it a day. The jet lag plus brunch was working it's magic and I think everyone turned in early that night.

We arranged for the 4 of them to stay in a 2 bedroom furnished apartment rather than a hotel. The price per night was cheaper and they had a full kitchen, sitting room and 4 bathrooms and still had housekeeping services each day. A pretty nice setup and one that we can arrange for you too. The best time to visit is November through March. ;)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Travellers Welcome

As many of you know, my parents and two of their friends are here for 2 weeks getting to know Abu Dhabi. They are not technically our first visitors, but the first that we've taken responsibility for and spent more than a few hours with. My next few posts will be about their adventures and a shameless attempt to entice you to visit us as well!

Part I: Getting Here
Working for an airline has it's perks and my favorite is the fact that I can share my flight discounts with family and friends. For parents and in-laws, I can buy unlimited discount tickets in both economy and business class. For friends and other family, I get 10 tickets each year that I can dole out in any way I'd like. So, for this trip, my parents and their two friends got to fly business class from Chicago to Abu Dhabi non-stop. A 13-hour flight that feels much shorter when you can stretch out in some of the best business class seats in the world, eat and drink whatever and whenever you want, and watch movie after movie (between naps of course!).

And their experience was exactly as we like it to be ... amazing! They were raving about the comfort, the service, the food, and the ease of travel. Jealous? Ready to book your own ticket? Just let me know and remember I only have 8 left so you'd better act fast. ;)

We met everyone at the airport and the flight was on time and the taxi was easy to find and we headed to their home away from home. We set them up in a serviced apartment not far from where Brian works. Unfortunately, our apartment is too small to allow them to stay with us, but the apartment has a full kitchen, 4 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms and a nice size sitting/dining room so they are much more comfortable than had we found hotel rooms.

We had a little snack and then everyone was off to bed to try to get ahead of the jet lag.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Kittens under the Stairs

Brian came home a few nights ago to a strange smell in our entryway to the villa - almost like cat pee. We have a few stray cats in the compound and Brian (the softie) has been known to feed them on occasion so he figured one got in, couldn't get back out and peed somewhere in the entryway.

Well, he was right that one got in, but she did a lot more than pee ... she had kittens in a box we had stored under the stairs. So far, we've seen two, but mama kitty doesn't let us get close enough to discover if there are more at the bottom of the box.

So now we have kittens under the stairs. Which is a problem. Because they are cute. And we've always had two cats in our household. And they are cute. And they are right outside our door. Being cute.

oh boy ...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Kingdom for a Walgreens

Getting sick is never fun, but it's even more challenging here in UAE where the meds you've come to know, love and trust just aren't available.

Brian can back from Vegas a little more than a week ago with a nasty, nasty cold that turned into an even nastier cough that's kept him from sleeping more than a couple hours at a time. He's moved temporarily to the couch 1) to keep from coughing quite as much, and 2) to keep from waking me up (yeah, he's a sweetheart, I know).

In an effort to help, I've been visiting the local pharmacies to try and get him something that will calm the cough and let him get some rest. There is no such thing as a Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid or even Target here and "over the counter" doesn't have the same meaning. Here, you visit a small pharmacy (there are loads of them everywhere) and explain to the pharmacist behind the counter what you're looking for. He or she then goes to the shelf and picks something out for you.

So that's what happened the first time I went in for some decongestant. I explained the nature of Brian's cold and he gave me a box of pills. And that worked great - 12 hour dosage and cleared up the sinuses quickly and completely. Sweet!

The second time I went in looking for cough medicine. This time (a different pharmacy) the woman handed me a bottle of Thyme leaves syrup. Now, no disrespect to those who sing the praises of herbal options, but I was looking for something a little more ... medicine-y? So, I asked if she had anything else. Sure, she said and brought me a bottle of honey syrup, which also contained Thyme leaves. I finally asked if she had any medicine for coughs and then got a bottle of Actifed something something that sounded latin and more like medicine. We decided to try that one and after paying about $5 for the bottle, I took it home.

And, as you might guess, it didn't work ... at all. I think Brian stopped coughing for about 5 minutes after each dose and he was only allowed 3 doses per day so that was $5 wasted.

So, I went back to the first pharmacy and tried again, this time getting something a bit different, but still with Thyme leaves (must be something about those thyme leaves!) Bought this one and it worked mildly better, but still didn't knock out the cough enough for Brian to get any sleep. Ahhh, what we wouldn't give for a Walgreens!

Good news is that the cough is slowly getting better and Brian finally got close to a full night's sleep last night.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What exactly is the dress code in UAE?

My parents and two of their friends are coming to visit in a couple of weeks and one of the questions that came up is 'what's the dress code in UAE?' and I thought it might make an interesting blog post (but, of course, you'll need to be the judge of that! :)

As some of you have heard or read or maybe even experienced, UAE is a Muslim country and is well known for their National Dress which for women is a long black robe and black head scarf that covers the hair and sometimes with an additional black scarf covering most of the face. For the men, it is a white robe with a head scarf loosely covering the head and sometimes wrapped around the head turban-style. With such conservative national dress, it's easy to understand how visitors might be worried about what they are allowed to wear in public.

The great thing about the UAE, however, is how open they are to other cultures and styles. The 'rule' is to dress modestly, which is loosely translated as keeping your cleavage, shoulders and knees covered. There's no need to wear long sleeves or a head covering, but it's also respectful not to wear low cut, sleeveless or shorts. Other than that basic guideline, most anything goes.

Punishment has been highly overrated in the media. I don't know of any legitimate police cases based solely on how someone is dressed. I'm sure there are some, but it's probably the extreme like streaking, which would be highly offensive here. (wait, that's pretty offensive everywhere, isn't it?) Now, it is possible to be denied entrance to a restaurant, bar or place of business if you are not dressed appropriately. I've seen two examples in our year here. One was a guy denied entrance to a bar because he was wearing shorts, and the second was a woman denied entrance to one of the universities because her dress was too short (above the knee). Luckily, she had some black tights along and once she had those on, she was fine. Had she been out to a bar or restaurant in the evening, I doubt they would have had any trouble with her dress.

It may seem a little harsh, but to me it's not a big deal and seems a small price to pay to show some respect for the local culture. Of course, maybe that's because I gave up short skirts and sleeveless tops a few years and a few pounds ago. :)