Monday, November 27, 2006

From Russia with Love

My first trip to Moscow was a certainly a mixed experience for myself. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that would be working in Russia if you had asked me maybe only six months ago - it is amazing how quickly circumstances can change.

Domodedovo airport is fairly modern and user friendly. I am assured that it is far nicer than Sheremetyevo to the north of the city. Either way I was glad that the local office had arranged a pick up and for the next 90 minutes I held on tight while the driver wended his way through the busy Moscow afternoon traffic. I was surprised that while the driving was quite fast road manners were polite and efficient. However I have spent the last three days queued in traffic all over Moscow and would say it rates above London but below Johannesburg. These three cities have traffic problems that Dubai has yet to dream of - however it is catching up fast.

While I did not get much opportunity to explore Moscow I did see plenty of architectural sites that were impressive by their sheer nobleness and Stalinist influences. For me this was typical of my impression of Moscow. Strong, proud and resolute. Sure the western influence is there - every street corner it seems is punctuated with neon and there are some of the largest billboards I have ever seen adorning city center streets. The one thing exactly like other large cities is that it is very expensive i.e. the hotel was $350 a night. It was odd to hear a local guy complain that Russian petrol prices were the same as in the US.

There were two things I found a little difficult initially. The weather although mild for Moscow for this time of year was grey, cold and wet - exactly like London! It almost immediately gave me the blues as I think I suffer from a mild form of SAD. The other is the language - nearly all the taxi drivers I met spoke next to no English. I would speak to them in slow, clear and loud English, they in turn would respond to me in slow, clear and loud made me smile. I think I will be compiling a bluffer's guide to Russian in the near future. However its usefulness in Dubai is probably only limited to a couple of venues.

Overall I had an interesting time in Moscow taking in the scenery and culture. I am keen on my next visit to make some time to see the Kremlin and Pushkin Square - though I will need to bring some more sensible shoes and full cold weather gear. I also felt a lot safer here than in Johannesburg but I was warned on a number of times to have my wits about me - making sure I avoided Sushi restaurants on this trip.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


While lazing around the Sandy Beach Motel last week I received an intriguing phone call inviting me to a Hummer off-road event. I thought nothing more of it until I received the Fedex package containing an official invite on expensive stationary this gave me the feeling it could well be worth turning up.

This morning I arrived at the Courtyard Marriot to be greeted by a large number of Hummers and a very well organized event:

It was also really nice to get some goodies on arriving:

In fact the best gift was a Hummer tire cover - something that I had been looking for since I purchased the car.

HUB or Hummer Base is the name of the Hummers owners club with "chapters" across the Middle East. This gathering was the inaugural meeting of the Dubai Chapter. The attendance was good with in total 25 Hummers participating in the drive - 6 H2s and 19 H3s. The demographic of drivers was very wide - from local Emaritis to European Families. It was nice to get to meet everyone and discuss Hummers and off-road driving.

After a short presentation on HUB, the route and safety we set off for the journey to a rocky trail. Sadly with a 25 vehicle convoy and a lot of industrial traffic we got separated in no time and spent 20 minutes waiting to reform.

After about an hour we arrived at the rock trail which started just south of Al Dhaid and finished just shy of Hatta Fort. The drive was rated a a novice trail and required no deflation or use of Hi or Lo 4WD lock.

Hummers forming up for the start of the 40km rock trail:

During the break for lunch the convoy leader took his H3 on some slightly more extreme terrain for some photos. I doubt I will be doing this with my car anytime least not on purpose:

As we moved out from lunch - one of the H2s took a poor line over a rocky patch and needed to be dragged out:

The drive was without any real incident but fun nonetheless. The major difficulty was the limited visibility created by leading cars kicking up large amounts of fine sand. It was a fun day and it was great to see a lot of Hummers all in one place together. I will certainly attempt to make future HUB events.

While the H2 is a large car - we had a ride along which made them seem more a normal size. I have no clue what this is - other than it is was huge! Answers on a postcard please...

Pink Rock

With the lads over - it was really good of Chris to take us out for a dune drive around Big Red and up to Pink Rock. He has also blogged this trip here.

As it had been a few weeks since my first desert drive I was a little rusty and in a matter of minutes I managed to have a stuck with a poorly chosen line over a dune:

It was a nice introduction for the UK lads into desert driving and they all mucked in when required:

I was keen that some of the boys got first hand experience of driving in the sand so I let them take the wheel - with the rather predictable outcome of another stuck or two...

and Paul in the midst of some rather over-enthusiastic driving left the Land Cruiser with a small modification:

It was a really memorable day being able to share this exhilarating past time with good friends. It is so hard to describe to them what it is like over the phone or by email - the experience is like "nothing else" to coin a phrase.

We spent all day laughing, screaming and clinging on for dear life in Team Hummer...and the grab handles have since been re-named "Jesus Handles" in respect to the words uttered when going over some particularly challenging dunes.

I personally learned a lot from the day. First, even after just a couple of drives I am starting to really find my feet with desert driving. Secondly the Hummer is perhaps a little short of power and as such is unforgiving if the tyre pressure is not right or the line you pick is not spot on. To this end the Hummer can do it - the only question is can the driver? I think a couple of small modifications to said car to mask driver inability may soon be happening!

Lastly - I have the utmost respect for Chris whose unending patience, unerring attitude toward safety and continued encouragement not only made the day memorable but has got me well and truly hooked into this new hobby. I am looking forward to the day when I get a chance to recover his Wrangler....

Team Pink Rock:

Friday, November 24, 2006


With my friends visiting for the week it gave me a perfect excuse to go and check out some of the more swanky hang outs in Dubai and also a chance for the UK lads to escape Wetherspoons.

So a little thumbnail of each of the ones we went to:


Located on the grounds of the Le Meridien - Mina Seyahi is Baristi. A nice open air bar where one can have drinks in front of multi-million dollar Sun Seekers and watch them construct the Palm Jumeriah. When I visited, one of said yachts was having a rather large private party with a powerful sound system and a better choice of music than Baristi. the other half live....

As an aside - the original Baristi is is currently under renovation. Having had a peek through the hoardings, looks like it will be a great venue once complete.

Buddha Bar

Attached to the Grosvenor House hotel and one of the "coolest" places to hang out in Dubai - if you are rich and beautiful. Sadly me and my mates don't fit into either of these categories but it was kind of fun looking. The Buddha Bar is visually an impressive venue with a large restaurant, a terrace, a mezzanine level and numerous nooks and crannies to share an intimate drink - or to simply hang out looking cool.

Not somewhere I would go regularly but still good to have experienced it.

Bar 44

Occupying the majority of the 44th floor of the Grosvenor House is Bar 44. Here you can get a table offering fantastic views across either the Marina, Jumeriah Palm or the Sheik Zayed Road. It was one of the few places (other than Vue Bar) that offers views to rival that of Las Vegas. The ambiance in this venue is cool and relaxed - if you don't choke on the astronomical price of the extensive champagne list. A classic cocktail or two was plenty enough to enjoy Bar 44.


Located within the maze of the Medinat souk is the cookie cutter Baz Zar - with its highlight being a nice outside terrace that blends into the Amphitheater. With the a wide variety of places to drink within the Medinat - this place seemed as good as any of the others.

Barhi Bar

Sat in the Mina A'Salam is the Barhi Bar. When we visited, female vocals entertained the crowded bar interior. Whilst on the terrace we enjoyed simply breath taking views of the Burj Al Arab:

A very nice place to spend a relaxed evening with friends - sadly the classic Margarita was a little pricey at 95AED!

It was certainly fun to visit a smorgasboard of bars in Dubai and from glancing in Whats On or Timeout is certainly only the tip of the Dubai's nightlife. I think I will need more research into this area...

Snoopy hang on

I have had a busy couple of weeks since my return from LA. the last 8 days I have been hosting some good friends of mine from the UK. It has been nice to look at Dubai through tourists eyes. One of the highlights over the last week was a mini-break and a road trip down to the Sandy Beach Motel in the Emirate of Fujariah. It was about a leisurely 2 hour journey that takes you through a rugged mountain range that reminded me a lot of Death Valley.

We rented a couple of two bedroom chalets - that while offering fairly basic amenities had the added bonus of having some outdoor chairs/table and the all important barbecue grill. In order to work up a bit of an appetite we first indulged in some snorkelling which this area is famous for. The Sandy beach motel is in the fortunate positioning of having Snoopy Island directly opposite its shoreline. I think why it is called Snoopy Island is fairly obvious:

Just around Snoopy Island is some nice coral which comes as a bit of a surprise when you first swim out. There is plenty to see there and a friend of mine recently captured some marine pictures on his last visit.

Once we had built and appetitive snorkelling we retired back to the chalet and proceeded to cook up a large barbecue. I was a little surprised to find that we got a rather large (and hungry) audience of cats who joined us:

Overall we had a very relaxed time in Fujariah and it made a nice contrast to being in the busy city of Dubai and a chance to see Marine fish and coral. While not the final word in luxury - it was a certainly a fun and activity filled 48 hours.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Been around the world

To say I have had a hectic schedule over the last ten days or so would probably be a fair statement. Early November saw my parents visit Dubai for a week followed by a trip to Los Angeles for an IT show namely VMworld held at the LA Convention Center.

Through my travels I have typically been flying with Emirates and on the whole have found their service to be good. This time I found myself flying on my old adversary British Airways. I posted a little while back that I found the BA Executive Club hard to get any "status" with - and sure enough after 34 hours flying with them I had earned exactly zero "tier" points. Whereas a similar journey with Emirates would give enough a substantial boost toward the next tier level.

It was also hard not to compare the travelling experience between BA and Emirates:

- Emirates always provide a pre-assigned seat which I can change when I check in on-line
- BA no pre-assigned seat despite having all details registered with their Exec Club - remedied when I checked in online.

Emirates wins

- Emirates - as a Silver card holder I can move quick through check in and security
- BA - fast Baggage drop was quick and efficient


On-board (Economy)
- Emirates - seats only OK, in-flight entertainment great, food is reasonable
- BA - seats slightly better than Emirates, in-flight entertainment average, food - main meal is good, the second meal they give you is truly horrible

Emirates win

In-flight Service
- Emirates - typically friendly, staff young and pre-dominantly female
- BA - staff courteous, average age much older and an even split between male and females


Overall - I prefer the service that Emirates offers over BA. Emirates wins alone for its excellent entertainment system and more modern cabins though their seats could be improved. They also edge BA on the food side of things i.e. the breakfast option on Emirates at least tastes like food unlike the BA cardboard "lunch boxes" which I am sure taste better than the food within them.

As a side note - the recent changes in Security have caused utter confusion with the travelling public. For a start their is simply no standard for the security check in this instance between DXB/LAX/LHR

1. Shoes on or off?
2. Belt on or off?
3. Coat on or off?
4. Mobile phone goes through scanner? (It doesn't at Dubai)
5. Laptop in or out?
6. Liquids/gels - none - but now "some" which must be <100ml in a clear plastic bag
7. One piece of hand luggage or two? at Heathrow people they have a special section when you can re-pack your hand luggage if you have two pieces and check the extra one in

All this led to huge queues for Security check - the worse one being at Heathrow when I transited from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 which took over two hours. I don't think anyone minds adhering to security requests it would just be nice if they were all the same.