Saturday, 30 November 2013

Weird & Wonderful UAE: Man in hot water in Dubai over parody video

   US man imprisoned in UAE for posting a video intended to be funny. Ouch.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Expo 2020

Those of you not in the UAE may have missed the fact that this evening Dubai has been selected to host the World Expo in 2020. The vote took place this evening in Paris and Dubai romped home against three competitors. The results of the vote were eagerly awaited throughout the UAE, it reminded me of waiting to hear if London had won the right to host the Olympics. And the outpouring of job seems to be the same too, fireworks on the Burj Khalifa and celebrations on the streets of Dubai apparently.

More importantly we are all now sat waiting to find out whether - as the rumors suggest - tomorrow is going to be declared a public holiday, with schools and offices shut. It's already 9:30pm but we still don't know! Hopefully it will be a holiday because then the whole population of the UAE can head to their nearest Baskin Robbins shop as they are giving free ice cream away all afternoon to celebrate the news!



Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Flossie's School Trip

Flossie has been on her school trip today, to the Heritage Village. She seems to have had a good day, being very pleased to have seen "a donkey, a horse and a camel", and telling a story about some ducks and geese escaping. It's National Day tomorrow so she and Archie are dressing up in the colors of the flag, and there seem to be all sorts of festivities planned. More about that in the next proper blog entry.


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Flooding of the Nile (aka Al Yasmina)

Archie's year has been doing a project on Ancient Egypt this term, and it culminated today with the whole year dressing as Ancient Egyptians and enjoying a range of activities. Jo was very creative and made Archie a fantastic costume out of pillow cases and various other bits and pieces. She also volunteered to help out for the day, which was very brave, especially as she made a dressing up outfit for herself as well!
As it turned out the weather decided to get involved as well. The annual flooding of the Nile has been an important natural cycle in Egypt since ancient times, and today the school played the part of the Nile, as the weather broke in Abu Dhabi and we witnessed the flooding of Al Yasmina (hopefully it's not going to be an annual event!).
It has felt as though a storm has been brewing for a few days, with grey skies, gusty winds blowing sand about, and increasing humidity. Finally it broke this morning, firstly in the city centre as I arrived for work, and then at Khalifa A as school started.
To be fair there was thunder and lightning, and the rain was torrential for a while. It wasn't long before the water was pouring into the school hall, and it only took a few hours before the school was closing for the day, as were many other schools in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other Emirates. Overkill? Quite possibly.
Archie and his classmates did manage to do most of their planned activities, other than their procession round the playground. He seems to have particularly enjoyed mummifying a banana; he described the process to me earlier and it certainly sounded quite complicated.
The impact of the rain has been a little comical. It is definitely the UAE equivalent of how the UK grinds to a halt when there are a few flakes of snow. I even had Dubai based members of my team asking if they could leave early due to the adverse weather. It has been the headline on most news reports I have heard, and has played havoc with events such as the Dubai Air Show.
Things seem to have settled down this evening, so it looks as though we can tick off one of the ten days of rain we can expect in our first year here. I'm sure it will be back to 30 degrees tomorrow, joy!
As per usual, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Weekend in Dubai: Part 3

Just realized that I didn't finish my blog entries about our weekend in Dubai. I'm sure you have all been waiting anxiously to hear about what else we got up to (not).

After tea on Friday we headed to the World Trade Centre where we had tickets for the regional final of the Red Bull Car Park Drift competition. Except we didn't have tickets, we had a receipt that needed to be swapped for tickets before we entered the arena, or should I say car park. The problem was that no one seemed to be able to tell me where to collect our tickets from. The first counter I went to directed me to the metro station some distance away. The man there looked at me blankly, then sent me back the way I had come to another ticket desk, and so on, until I had been to five different desks.

By this time the start of the competition was only ten minutes away, so Jo had taken the kids to wait by the entrance we were supposed to use. Whilst she was waiting she got talking to someone, who informed her that we could get our tickets from a counter right next to the entrance. Irritating? Not at all!

We finally got our tickets five minutes after the competition had started, and joined the throng at the gate. There was a mass of people waiting, and no queuing system in place (where are the numbered ticket dispensers when you need them!). The security guards were taking a very relaxed approach to checking tickets carefully, then checking bags, then putting a wristband on.

The throng of people trying to get in

Finally we got in, found some seats, and settled back to enjoy the action. For the uninitiated car park drifting is exactly what it sounds like, competitors driving round a course set up in a car park, skidding as much as possible, and generally making as much noise and generating as much smoke as they can (very much like driving on the roads here). The winner seems to be (I think, I never quite worked it out) the person who can complete the course quickest and with as much skidding as possible.

My iPhone camera didn't cope well with the conditions

The event seemed to consist of a lot of sitting around listening to an excitable (the only drink on sale was of course Red Bull, and he seemed to have had more than his fair share) commentator gabbling away in Arabic, punctuated by 20 second bursts of action. Whilst the bursts of action were exciting, they were few and far between, and the competition seemed to fall further and further behind the timetable, not helped by the local favourite managing to get his car stuck in the crash barrier, and nobody being able to shift it.When it became obvious that the competition was likely to go on until the early hours we decided to call it a day, especially as Archie and Flossie were getting tired.

All in all it was a surreal experience, but one which we enjoyed in a strange way. Who would have thought a year ago that we would be sat in a car park next to the busiest road in Dubai, in view of the Burj Khalifa, watching cars doing their best to destroy themselves!?

Saturday was less surreal, but we had a great day at the motor show. Archie in particular was in his element looking at all the super cars, and both he and Flossie (and Henry) enjoyed getting as many freebies as they could (although Jo did best of all as demonstrated by the photo below). We didn't manage to get round the whole exhibition before it was time to make tracks back to Abu Dhabi.

Jo weighed down by all her goodies

All in all a great weekend, and I'm sure we'll be back in Dubai soon.

Thanks for reading as always.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Abu Dhabi Science Festival

Yet another busy weekend draws to a close, and we all need an early night before school and work tomorrow. Yesterday was Friday Brunch in an Indian Restaurant on Yas Island, with two other families from school. The food was fantastic, and there was a playground right outside which kept the kids occupied whilst the adults "relaxed".

Today we were back at Yas Island, but this time at the Du Forum for the Abu Dhabi Science Festival. The Festival is running for a couple of weeks and consists of lots of interactive exhibits (think Manchester Museum of Science & Industry if you know it), plus a big selection of workshops that you can book in advance.

Archie and Flossie had a great time (Henry declined to come) doing the following:

  1. Building and then racing a rocket powered car (involving air and water).
  2. Watching a show featuring lots of "experiments" involving dry ice.
  3. Making some "slime" out of various ingredients (and being able to take it home).
  4. Learning about magnets, and doing lots of experiments with them.
  5. Having a 3D video made of themselves.
  6. Playing football with robots.
The great thing was that it only cost £10 in total for the four of us to spend the afternoon there, and the volunteers running the workshops were fantastic with the children, helping them out if they got stuck and being very patient with them.

An indication of how much we enjoyed ourselves is that we are going back next weekend to do some of the other workshops (and this time Henry is coming, no choice).

So if you happen to be reading this in Abu Dhabi and you have kids of any age, get along there to see what it's all about (it's at Du Forum and on the Corniche for the next week or so).

As always, thanks for reading.




Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Weekend in Dubai: Part 2

Finally it was the moment Archie had been looking forward to, a trip to the top of Burj Khalifa. As I'm sure you know Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, at 828m, with more than 160 floors. Like many super tall buildings there is a bit of cheating, in that the top part of the tower is unoccupied, and (dare I say it) just there to allow the record to be claimed. Still the tower also has the highest occupied floor in the world so I suppose it is fair enough.

We joined the queue just before our allotted time of 4pm, and followed the corridor towards the elevator. Along the way there were various informative displays about the inspiration behind the tower, and the process of designing and constructing it. These were really well presented, and there was a calmness to the whole queuing process, it certainly wasn't like queuing for a roller coaster in Florida!

Fairly quickly we got to the final door before the elevator. This was a rotating door with an attendant carefully managing the flow of people going through. Alongside him was a cleaner wearing a pair of white gloves who insisted on polishing the glass of the door every time somebody had passed through, which seemed a little over the top but there you go.

Finally we were allowed into the elevator, which of course is the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world. It was no surprise that it was a very smooth, and fast, ascent - the only evidence we were moving was the floor numbers on the display increasing rapidly and our ears popping at intervals.

Not many seconds later we were at the observation deck. Because numbers are managed carefully, whilst there were lots of people up there, it was by no means packed. This meant we were able to take our time walking round the whole 360 degrees! including the outside observation deck. Needless to say the views were stunning, although it was a little hazy so I'm sure they are even better on a clear day.

We took in the views for half an hour or so and then decided to head back down. Before we did Henry insisted on doing some filming for a video he is making. Jo offered to be the cameraman, but was rejected in favor of me. I did my best but my attempt was not up to scratch so Henry insisted on filming himself and drew some strange looks as he made a speech ending with "Welcome to Henry's random life". I'm not sure what the video is about - other than his random life - but hopefully all will be revealed soon.

The trip down was as smooth and quick as the trip up, and we were soon wandering round to the restaurant we had booked for dinner, from where we were able to watch the impressive Dubai Mall fountain show.

All in all we really enjoyed our "trip to the top", and I suspect this is going to be a "must do" for any visitors we have.

One thing I am glad about is that we weren't up there yesterday. Apparently they had a practice emergency drill and evacuated the tower, or at least parts of it. I wouldn't have wanted to have to walk down 100+ floors of the fire escape!

Thanks for reading as always.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Weekend in Dubai: Part 1

Another weekend gone in a flash, but we had a great time in Dubai.

We drove up on Friday morning and got to our hotel, the Marriott Dubai Harbour, without too much trouble. As expected our room wasn't ready for us, so we dumped our bags and asked the concierge the way to the nearest Metro station. He informed us that as it was Friday, the Metro doesn't start running until 1pm, which hadn't even occurred to us. But it wasn't a problem, as we just had to jump in a taxi instead.

The taxi dropped us off at the Dubai Mall, our centre of operations for the afternoon. The Mall is huge, even by UAE standards. Apparently it is the world's largest mall based on total floor area, and houses approximately 1,200 shops and restaurants. It is so big it even has its own taxi service, consisting of elongated golf buggies (apparently based on Rolls Royce designs), to cart people around.

We grabbed lunch in the Rainforest Cafe, and then headed off to the Burj Khalifa ticket office to exchange our vouchers for tickets for our allocated visit slot later in the afternoon. If you don't book ahead you can struggle to get in.

Rainforest Cafe

Our next task was to find some tickets for the Motor Show on Saturday. We found out that they were on sale at the Metro station next to the Mall so headed off in that direction. Foolishly we assumed the station would be very close to the Mall, however it turned out to be almost a kilometer away. Thankfully you can walk (or use moving walkways) all in the way in an air conditioned walkway which opened a few months ago (it really is true that if you want to, you can pretty much stay out of the sun all the time here!).

We got our tickets, which left us with an hour to kill before the Grand Car Parade, being held round the streets of Dubai to mark the Motor Show. We realized that the main road outside the Metro station would be a good vantage point, but to kill some time decided to walk back to the Mall to pick up a couple of things.

An hour later, having done the length of the walkway both ways, and getting pretty tired, we were sat next to the busiest road in Dubai waiting for the cars to arrive. The parade was to consist of 500 of the UAE's most expensive cars, estimated to have a combined value of around £100m.

Before too long the cars started passing, led by a number of the super cars which are part of the Dubai Police Force. Health and safety rules were completely absent as the crowds at the side of the road pushed forward to get a better view of cars passing them at at least 50mph. The road started out as five lanes wide but there were barely two passable by the end.

Anyway, we enjoyed seeing the cars, especially Archie who is going through a real car phase at the moment, but before too long it was time to hurry back along the walkway (again!) as our slot to go up the Burj Khalifa was fast approaching.

To be continued in "Weekend in Dubai: Part 2".


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2013: Day 3 & 4

After a good start, last weekend got too busy for me to do an update on days three and four, and here we are again at another weekend.

In summary days three and four were fantastic. In reality it's easier to follow qualifying and the race on television, but nothing quite beats the sight of the cars, the scream of the engines, and the smell of burning rubber. We all watched at some point over the weekend, and Archie in particular enjoyed himself. It did help that I was able to download an app which had a virtual representation of the track, with dots going round it (in almost real time, maybe 5 seconds delay) representing all the drivers. This meant Archie could watch his favorite driver, Jenson Button, on the app, and look up at the right point to watch him passing us by.

Mind you, Henry was the big winner. His friend's dad is senior in one of the hotel groups here and had a number of "spare" tickets in the main grandstand overlooking the start / finish line. So Henry spent both days in there, with one of the best views on the circuit. I'm not jealous at all!!

As well as the racing I went to the Muse concert, and Jo, cousin Pete and myself went to see Depeche Mode on the final evening. Both concerts were fantastic, Muse was the better of the two in my opinion, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Depeche Mode - they teased us with newer stuff before playing some of the classic hits.

That's Muse, honest, or maybe it's Depeche Mode.

After such a hectic weekend it was hard to drag myself into work on Monday but I just about managed. It's been a busy four days, mainly spent responding to proposal requests which seem to be coming in thick and fast at the moment, often with very short timescales (makes some of deadlines I had at PwC positively relaxed). These timescales can be even more pressured when you have to send the request to a local typing office to be translated from Arabic to English so you know what you are actually bidding for, and then you have to build in time to have the proposal translated from English to Arabic before you submit it.

This weekend is shaping up to be another busy one. Tomorrow morning we are heading to Dubai for a night, Jo and the kids first visit. We have a packed programme, including:

  • A trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa, which Archie has been desperate to do since he arrived in the UAE.
  • A visit to the Dubai Motor Show to see some of the new supercar models.
  • Watching a Car Parade round the roads of Dubai, apparently there are more than 500 cars taking part with a combined value of a ridiculous number of millions of dirhams. The procession is being led by Dubai Police who seem to have one of every super car you can imagine in their fleet.
  • Attending the "Red Bull Car Park Drift Final", which apparently is lots of cars skidding round a course in a car park, making as much noise as possible, and creating as much smoke as they can from their tyres.
  • Watching the fountains at Dubai Mall, which are meant to be spectacular.

Just looking at that list suggests we are becoming petrol heads doesn't it!? I think we'll have a break from cars for a while after this weekend.

The weather should be fine for all that though. It is definitely getting cooller, indeed the forecast on the radio on the way home from work predicted "a cold weekend, with the temperature unlikely to get above 29 degrees centigrade"!

I'll be back next week to let you know how it all went.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Jay Z Concert: Review

Due to popular demand (ie: Cal!), please find below Henry's review of last night's concert, as posted on Instagram.

He does seem to have had a great evening, despite Mr Z (that is his name isn't it?) arriving on stage 40 minutes late, a broken generator delaying things for a further 20 minutes, and complete traffic chaos getting home. But aren't those all required ingredients of a great concert experience!?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to a more grown up concert this evening, Muse. Unfortunately I'm being abandoned by everyone else as they don't know good music when they hear it, and would rather go out and get drunk ;).


Friday, 1 November 2013

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2013: Day 2

Relaxing after day two of the Grand Prix weekend. It's been another great day. We started with Friday Brunch at a hotel near the circuit. It was an Indian Restaurant where you could order whatever you wanted off the menu, and keep on ordering until you burst. We did our best to achieve this goal!

At the end of lunch Archie, Flossie and I left the others in the bar and headed off to get the bus to the Circuit, pausing only to admire the line up of cars outside the hotel.

We quickly found our seats in the North Grandstand, and were very pleased with the view we had. We can see a good proportion of the circuit, the cars are in view for about 30 seconds which is great.

We enjoyed watching the cars for half an hour or so. The ear protectors proved very useful, I'd expected it to be loud but it was incredible, apparently you could hear it from our compound. Flossie spent the time trying to work out which was Jenson Button's car, and as we were leaving announced that he had won the race. I'm not sure she really understood what was going on!

It was soon time to rotate the tickets so the others could have a go. Archie and Flossie headed off home with Jo in a taxi, and Pete, Henry and I headed back into the circuit. We managed to secure a couple of wristbands to get Henry and his friend into the Jay-Z concert this evening, and then watched the final 20 minutes of the practice session.

We left the Circuit thinking it was going to be a nightmare finding Henry's friend, Rhys, before the concert, but actually he was waiting right outside the gate with his mum. They soon disappeared looking forward to their first concert, and a night of freedom. Rhys's Mum and Dad were then kind enough to give Pete and I a lift home. All in all a great day.

Anyway, time to relax for a little while before bed. Thanks for reading as always.


Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2013: Day 1

We've been looking forward to this weekend since we arrived in Abu Dhabi. Archie and I because we've got tickets for the Grand Prix, Jo and Flossie because Cousin Pete has come to visit, and Henry because he is hoping to see Jay-Z in concert.

We've splashed out and got two tickets in one of the grandstands for the whole weekend, with cousin Pete having a third ticket. The race itself is late afternoon Sunday, but the tickets also give us access to practice, qualifying and a number of support races.

The tickets also gave us access to the Pit Lane Walk yesterday afternoon. I finished work early and Archie and I headed off to do the walk as soon as he finished school.

Archie in Pole Position

We really enjoyed being up close to the cars, and whilst we didn't see any of the drivers we did see lots of interesting things, and Archie asked lots of questions.

One of the best moments was when one of the teams decided to practice their pit stop technique as we passed. We watched for a few minutes, Archie was impressed with how quick they did it, but the noise was a bit of a shock to him!

After the walk, Jo and Flossie picked us up and we headed home for some trick or treating. It seems to have been a fairly big event on the compound, with one of the villas in particular being well decorated.

After trick or treating it was time to collect Cousin Pete from the airport. He didn't know we were going to do this, so it was a nice surprise for him when he walked through the meet and greet area.

After that it was back home for a bite to eat, and a relaxing few hours on the roof terrace.

Today we are going to a hotel near the circuit for brunch, and then later this afternoon some of us will go and catch some of the second practice session. We will also endeavor to get Henry and his friend wrist bands so they can go and see the after race concert this evening. Tonight it is Jay-Z, tomorrow Muse, and Sunday Depeche Mode. Access to the concerts comes free with the race tickets, we just have to ensure the right people get the wristbands you need to get in.

Thanks for reading as always.