Friday, April 29, 2016

And the Adventures continue . . .

Like many expats in Abu Dhabi, we planned to stay for 2-3 years . . .  and it's now been more than 5. When we left home, we figured a 2-3 year adventure would be fun and then we'd come back home and pick up again. I even remember initially thinking I might take a sabbatical from my job and come right back to it. But that's jut not how things have worked out for us. The adventure of 2-3 years has turned into more than 5 and our plans to return home and pick up where we left off seems silly now.

About a year ago, we started to get the 'itch' to leave the land of sand and started exploring our options. We talked about everything from going back home, moving somewhere else and even trying to retire early and get part-time jobs as beach bums in Thailand. We weren't in a hurry and knew that, like all of our previous adventures, something would come along.

And something did. We'll be leaving Abu Dhabi in June to continue our adventures in Bristol, UK which is about 2 hours southwest of London. Why Bristol? Hubby's job - he'll be establishing his company's European office which will be located in Bristol. A great career opportunity for him and another great adventure for us.

So, it's now packing and sorting and selling and searching while June zooms closer every day. What seemed to take forever to come to pass is now speeding ahead too quickly, but that's how it always is. I gave notice at work on April Fool's Day (it just felt right!) and my last day will be June 2nd. Yes, two months notice required here for my position and level! I'm using the two months to transition a bunch of projects, clean out my desk and get my CV in shape for the next round of job hunting. Yeah, that's the bummer part - no way I can stay with my current employer and work from Bristol so I'll be looking again for a new job.

The kitties will come along of course and so we're working on getting their vaccinations up to date, new microchip for Rogue (apparently the UK can't read the one we did in US before she came here) and one for Petra too. Poor Petra, how will she cope with that thin soft fur built for Abu Dhabi summers? I may have to take up knitting so I can make her some sweaters.

And June is the perfect time to head out - as the horrible heat and humidity start to get unbearable. It honestly is my number 1 reason for leaving. I'll miss some of the glitz and glam of UAE and, of course, the people, but I definitely will not miss those summers. No, not even as my wellies grow mold from the damp of UK winters!

So now you're up to date. I suppose I'll need to start a new blog for this new adventure . . . Bristol Adventures? Tales from the rain puddle? I'll have to give this some thought.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Sharm El Sheikh: And the snorkeling was great too!

After two days of diving, we stayed at the resort on day 3 and did some snorkeling and relaxing instead. We snorkeled just off the best of the resort with fairly low expectations and were very happily surprised. Just off the dock was some of the best snorkeling we've ever done. Really interesting terrain, crystal clear water and lots and lots of fish to watch. We were in heaven.

That is, once we got past the gauntlet. The ladder is situation in a relatively shallow area and then you swim under the ropes to get to the good stuff. However, a banner fish must have some babies there because we were both harassed by the little guy until we got far enough away. The aggressive little dude swam right up to Brian's mask making mean fish faces! Pretty fun to see a fish no bigger than your hand act like he's going to kick your a..

So a bit of snorkeling, some sun, a nice lunch and we were fully relaxed . . . and covered in mosquito bites. I seriously looked like I had the measles. Luckily they didn't itch too much,  just created really attractive spots that lasted almost a week! Ah, the price of a great vacation.

The beach. You can see how deserted it is. I think we saw 4 other groups and were there for at least 4 hours.
 These are the party barges that show up from about 12-1:30 just off the beach at our resort. They take advantage of the calm inlet and great snorkeling.

Not a bad view for lunch.
I wasn't joking about the mosquito bites. Okay, yes, some of those are freckles but I seriously looked like I had the measles!

Desert Hot Air I actually enjoyed

A hot air balloon ride over the desert has been on our bucket list for a while and we finally booked the trip. 4am wake up call so that we could take off at sunrise, but as you'll see from the photos, it was worth it (and we had an afternoon nap to make up for the early departure).

 Filling up the balloon around 5:30am.

 There were 3 balloons in the group and we were with Captain Peter, who still carried  part of his army sergeant days with him.

 I love this shot - happened to catch both of them firing at the same time.

 Can you see what's spelled on the lake? We're flying here over the Sheikh's desert oasis and he built these little islands to spell Dubai just for the balloons and sky divers. I guess when you have more money than you know what to do with . . .

 It was a perfect morning - the skies have been really clear the last few days due to some rain the week before. We were lucky to have such a clear view.

 No harm done, but from the reaction from Captain Peter, I don't think this is supposed to happen when you have this much sky around you. :)

 Most of the flight was over the Dubai Nature reserve so we saw gazelles and oryx. Really cool, but hard to get a good photo of them.

Once the captain fired the flames of the balloons, the oryx took off.
The landing was a bit bumpy, but fun. The basket actually tips over on its side during the landing and then we crawl out - not what we expected. This is one of the other balloons as it started the tip.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sharm El Sheikh: Naama Bay

Naama Bay is the main area of town where you can find loads of restaurants, souvenirs and dive shops. I'm sure it's a rockin' place in high season, but with the economy the way it is in Egypt, it just looked a bit sad. Still, we had a good time wandering around a bit and grabbing a pizza and beer after day 2 of diving.

 There were about 5 of us walking around this huge shopping, restaurant area. Granted is was around 10:30am on Friday, but still.

 The main street is this huge boulevard for pedestrians only.

 This is the view from our rooftop pizza joint after day 2 of diving. Nice view and lighting as the sun started to set.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Sharm El Sheikh: Diving is the best way to spend a birthday

Our main goal for visiting Sharm El Sheikh was to scuba dive. The red sea is said to be some of the best diving in the world and we would have to agree. Loads of fish, amazing visibility and a huge variety of interesting coral. The reefs are so healthy and vibrant. We are smitten and can't wait to go back.

Even better,  our first day diving was Brian's birthday and the whole boat sang Happy Birthday and the chefs even made him a cake. Not a bad way to turn ...

Luxury resorts line the coast - not sure which one this is.

Shallow water where we stopped for lunch after our first dives. Much calmer and a totally different shade of blue.

Here's Brian and his cake. There were actually 2 birthdays on board which was pretty cool.

You can see a bit of the 'mountains' in this shot. Very pretty area.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sharm El Sheikh: Don't let the news cancel a vacation

Our latest adventure took us to Sharm El Sheikh where we did some of the best scuba diving we've ever done in the Red Sea. Now, I know what you're thinking:
"Wait, isn't Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt?"
"Isn't Egypt dangerous right now?"
" Oh my god, they went to Egypt?!"

I assure you, except for the utter chaos that is Cairo International Airport, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Sharm El Sheikh is a resort town on the water with large-scale luxury hotels and lots and lots of diving. The Red Sea is well known for some of the best scuba diving in the world and Sharm El Sheikh has built a thriving tourist business on that claim.

Or at least they had. The place was deserted which was so heartbreaking. Beautiful luxury resorts empty and many of them closed due to the press Egypt has been getting. All European carriers have cancelled all flights in and out of Egypt from Dec until Mar.

Don't misunderstand. I fully appreciate the need to be cautious and careful and don't doubt that those airlines and travel companies carefully considered their decisions. It's just sad to see such a lovely place turn into a ghost town. The benefit to us was very personalized attention and rock bottom prices.

Arrival was an adventure as always. Upon disembarking in Cairo, we waited for over an hour for our bags to arrive amidst chaos akin to Wal-Mart on Black Friday. We then had a connecting flight to Sharm El Sheikh which the ticket said was in Terminal 3 (we were in Terminal 1). No problem, I'll just ask helpful airport staff dude where to go to find Terminal 1. He proceeds to lead us out to the taxi stand. What?! Yep, sure enough, the terminals are not connected and a good 10 minute car ride away. We ended up paying almost $40 for the trip (total tourist rip off), but we were getting close to missing our connection so paid the fare.

We checked in on Egyptair and were told to hurry as we were running late. We did hurry only to find out the plane had been delayed. An hour and a Miranda orange soda, courtesy of Egyptair, later and we were off to Sharm El Sheikh.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency, which is a huge beautiful resort when full and a nice but spookily quiet resort when you're two of about 50 there.