Friday, May 25, 2007

Spaghetti Interchange

At the moment the RTA are my new best friend. Over the last week interchange five at Dubai Marina as been gradually opening up. Having watched it being built over the last year and also having been stuck in every changing contra-flows and diversions it has now made a fantastic difference to Dubai Marina residents.

Prior to the interchange - in order to get on the Sheikh Zayed road heading to Dubai you had to make fairly bleak choices. First drive through the Marina and then right on to Al Sufouh street, through three sets of lights and then onto the following interchange. This on a traffic free day would take between fifteen and twenty minutes. The other option was to drive in the opposite direction to Ibn Battuta Mall and u-turn there - not ideal but could be fairly quick, say ten to fifteen minutes.

Now with the interchange open - getting on to the Dubai bound Sheik Zayed Road is a revelation. You just filter off to the right and before you know it you are on to seven lanes of highway bliss. This cuts at least ten minutes off my journey but more importantly it is dramatically reducing the traffic in and around the Marina. Which is a good thing as the many thousand JBR apartments are starting to be handed over now and the Marina will see a dramatic influx of new residents over the next six months.

One interesting side effect to the very large interchange opening up - is now the Taxi drivers are totally confused as to which way to go. It now requires constant navigation advice as to which lane, slip road or tunnel they should be aiming at with the end result or numerous less well guided taxis weaving about just before road forks, all looking a little confused. I am sure they will all be up to speed soon.

Here is an impression of the new Interchange 5 from the Gulf News 10/5/2007

Super Zoomin'

I have mentioned before that since arriving in Dubai the number of photos I have taken has increased at a dramatic rate. This has also peaked my interest in photography. I was previously very happy with a combo of my little Canon 850IS as a "carry everywhere point and shoot" and the Sony R1 for anything more serious. Then I handled a friends Digital SLR in this case a Canon was nothing short of a revelation. The sheer ergonomics of a camera that does everything instantly and a real viewfinder was marvellous.

The Sony R1 has an excellent lens and is capable of taking stunning photos - but it simply can not compare to the flexibility and speed of a Digital SLR camera. I was sold. After a lot of research on the web and more importantly going to a store and physically handling all the cameras with various lens options I chose the Nikon D80.

I wanted a camera with some "idiot" features which rules out the higher range such as a Canon 30D or Nikon D200. The Canon 400D felt a little small to handle for me compared to the Nikon D80, so it was a fairly straightforward choice. The downside of Digital SLR is the lens choice and sheer amount of accessories that are available are not only bewildering but become very expensive very quickly.

Over the last few months I have accumulated a good collection of gear. While no means complete meets most of my needs today. For those interested you can see the list of gear over at here.

I had fun last weekend playing with excellent Nikon 18-200mm zoom lens. Here is a photo of a nice boat at 18mm:

Here is the same boat, moments later, with with the lens at full 200mm focal length - or "Extreeeme close up"- At 11x optical zoom this is more than twice the reach from my previous Sony R1

In the full resolution images it is actually possible to discern the cell phone and type of soda the passengers have. Remarkable.

It is quite rare to see many boats cruising around the Marina when last week there were suddenly three at once all looking to dock at the small jetty near where I live. Rather reminiscent of London buses:

It is a really fun hobby and I am now an ardent follower of the Digital Photography School blog to help improve my photography.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Clowning Around

I have been in two minds if to post about this or not. I finally decided to, mainly as it was such a fun event for everyone who attended, despite how ridiculous I look in the photo below.

Here I am with Reg "The Bearded Lady", my make-up was courtesy of the ever talented Mrs Saul:

The Circus themed party was the latest in a long line of theme parties that Duncan (my soon to be new villa-mate) was famous for holding. Previous parties themes have included "Hawiian Nights", "Heaven and Hell" and "Jungle Fever" sadly I had missed the last couple due to business trips but I was at the circus party with bells on. Duncan always ensures that the villa is suitably themed for the event and this one was no different. The big clown face below marked the entrance to the party:

There was a special treat for some of the more young at heart, inside the villa was a large paddling pool filled with balls. Needless to say there was a huge ball fight later in the evening! Here some "clowns" are having a whole lot of fun:

It was great to see so many people get into the spirit of things and get dressed up. Below are some of my favourites from the evening. First - Catherine and Kate got dressed up as candy floss:

Lawrence "Zoron the Incredible" and Claire "High Flying Acrobat" came as the athletic couple:

Matt and Cynthia came as excellently made up mime-artistes:

I loved Matt's "The Wolf Boy" painstaking make up, alongside Abi's excellent clown outfit

It was a fantastic night had by all - and with the advent of Facebook all my friends around the world could see we had one excellent, fun filled evening the following day. I am all ready looking forward to the next one, now my hang over has worn off.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eye Eye

With my new found hobby, photography. I am really starting to appreciate others work. My brother-in-law Keith has been a keen photographer from some years.

The other day I was browsing through his gallery and I was really impressed by his self-portrait. The eye featuring here is my sister/Keith's wife. I thought this was a wonderful picture and with his kind permission I thought I would post a great family photo:

I think it gives new meaning to being "A twinkle in my eye" - a favourite saying in my family.

What's in your bag?

Leading the life of a traveling sales man had led me to highly optimizing my luggage on business trips. The cardinal rule is – “Never Check Anything In” - unless you can absolutely help it. Though this goes out of the window if traveling from the UK or USA with the BAA's strict adherence to one piece of carry on baggage only. Though for some reason you can shop till you drop and bring all of that on the plane with you...

It turns out with careful planning and bringing two bags on board you can easily travel for 5 days. This is how I do it:

Laptop Bag – I try to keep this as light as possible

1. Laptop
2. iPod
3. Paper Notebook and pen
4. Travel Documents
5. Keys - I always find placing them in here means I am not scrambling for them when I get home
6. Noise canceling headphones – essential on flights. I put them on as soon as I get on the plane and then only remove them when we land. The difference is huge – airplane noise is one of the major contributors to jet lag and weariness
7. Magazine – usually Top Gear, wired or PC-PRO
8. Business cards
9. Mouse
10. Novel

Weight – about 5kg

Four wheel roll along – brilliant for airports as it makes it so much easier to push along than two wheeled flight cases. So the contents are:

1. 1 x Suit
2. Work shirts x number of days I will be in the office plus a couple of ties – I like to have these pre-folded by my local laundry
3. 1 x trousers
4. Pants and Socks x number of travel days
5. 1 x gym kit (t-shirt, shorts/swims, trainers, sports socks)
6. Laptop power supply
7. Two pin power adapter
8. Phone charger
9. Cuff links – I leave these in my suitcase at all times
10. A couple of casual/polo shirts
11. + one leather jacket and pullover if it is cold
12. + one puffa jacket, one hat, gloves and scarf if it is really cold
13. Wash bag – Shaving foam, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, hair product, cologne – all packed in a clear plastic bag and all containers less than 100ml
14.Canon compact camera

Weight – about 10kg without a jacket
I also always carry a few essential travel items upon my person and wallet:

1. Currency - $200 in fifties, 100 Euros, 500 AED and about $100 of the local currency of wherever I am going (the US and Euro's can be lifesavers)
2. E-Gate card – the best thing I thing the Dubai authorities have ever introduced for whizzing through immigration at Dubai airport
3. Skywards Gold Card
4. Emirates Citibank Card – for all those extra Skywards miles
5. A middle east issued American Express corporate card – for emergencies and to escape to the Marharbra lunge in Dubai airport (The Emirates ones are over crowded in the mornings)
6. UAE driving license
7. Allianz Insurance card
8. Company Identification

So there you have it – as long as my iPod is loaded with some good play lists and pod casts, and maybe the odd DVD in my notebook, I am typically happy for the whole week and for any short to long haul flights I have to make. I look back when I made my first trip to South Africa I ended up bringing a large bag to check in – then after waiting an hour to collect it at both Johannesburg and Dubai airports I swore never to let this happen again.

I am now ready for the next month of travel which will see me go to Greece, Egypt, South Africa and Russia.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Rather than write about the BBC documentary I thought I would post here my first attempt at a wide-angled Panorama. I am really starting to enjoy learning the fundamentals of digital photography and have recently entered into the world of the DSLR (my thoughts on the technology to follow).

Here is my first effort of a wide-angle (using a 10-22mm Sigma lens - wide open) shot from my balcony - the exposure could use some work (but it is fun playing):

Small Object Of Desire

Go into any Carrefour or Geant in Dubai and the gleaming glass cubicles displaying the latest Sony Ericsson/Nokia/Motorola/Samsung mobile phone delights are often crowded two or three people deep.

Last week I found myself at one of them in a desperate effort to buy a new phone....."what another new mobile phone?" well yes. Let me explain. A little while ago I blogged at length about the goodness of the W950i with the me and the phone even making an appearance in Stuff. However some months of let me update my review with the "long term" test comments:

Original comments in italics.
No joystick - but you have to use a stylus which I kept losing and 95AED for three is crazy.
Lightweight and slim in size - agreed
Walkman branded and 4gb storage means it is a great mp3 player - not really the Sony software has a horrible user interface - it is just not iTunes
Much better for messaging email/SMS - The biggest flaw with this phone is that it is just so slow, using the SMS and email applications is like treacle. All sticky and gloopy.
Stereo bluetooth headphones are a great boon with awesome sound quality - they are great though you can not use them when the phone is in "flight mode" so you still need either wired headphones or your iPod on flights. The bluetooth headset is fantastic for conference calls.
Usable PDA functions - if you like it s l o o o w
A wealth of third party applications available - I want to get World Clock and a MSN instant messenger program - I never used them
Reasonable battery life - with a little use of the GPRS for email the battery was soon gone and it would only last a day on average.

No camera - I really missed it
Need to get use to the touch keyboard - very hard press the keys with great accuracy
Need a new SIM card to take advantage of 3G - too hard to get from Etisalat with a company SIM card
Loading applications other than the "Walkman" is not snappy - very true and was the final nail in the coffin
Need to find a case to protect the large screen - I never did and it has now seen better days

In summary after using this for a good few months - it turns out that the battery life is poor, the phone is slow (application launching, email, contact search), I kept losing the stylus and once you get used to having a camera on a phone it is hard to go without again.

New overall rating for the W950i - 6/10. Could use a faster internal processor, built in camera and a decent keyboard.

Having decided that W950i was now resigned to the phone graveyard I was still convinced that I wanted a Sony Ericsson. The user interface for me is very natural. The choice was straightforward - the svelte and slim Sony Ercisson W880i. After forcing my way through to the to the front of the busy display counters the I left empty handed as it was hard to get one with an English only keyboard. This led to a two hour hunt around Ibn Battuta and eventually I located one in my desired silver finish. Here is a short review of the phone:


A true object of desire
Slim and Light
Great Battery life
No Joystick
Excellent crisp/bright screen
Snappy in use
Raised keys makes SMS'ing easy
Email application is quick
Camera does well for 2mp
Track ID - a small music recognition application works brilliantly

No flash for camera

Overall an excellent phone - I am giving this 10/10 until I get an iPhone...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Radio Re-Run

Yesterday I made my second ever appearance on radio. My first was quite an intense interview on Eye on Dubai's breakfast show - yesterday's was a much more relaxed feature on blogging again on Eye on Dubai. It was a fun if chaotic hour with a panel of two hosts and six guests.

I posted a heads up to the UAE Community Blog about this here - I want to thank everyone who made kind comments about me on the show. Hopefully I will be able to get an mp3 recording of it I can keep for posterity.

Midtown Mirdiff

I was invited to what turned out to be a very fun pool party in an area of Dubai called Mirdiff. I had never visited this particular area before as it is quite a drive from my current location of Dubai Marina. In the office we often joke that if the Emirates flight has to park off a stand away from the terminal, it feels like we are taxiing all the way to Mirdiff.

On the drive out I spotted a Landcruiser stuck in a rather precarious position. I had heard that Landcruisers had excellent entry and departure angles however the central barrier was a little too much this time:

Mirdiff was a nice surprise. A villa community providing comfortable and well priced housing - with an excellent shopping centre and the promise of a huge shopping mall "The Mall of Arabia" coming in a few years. The variety of housing was also a good change from the carbon copy villa communities such as the Springs. It was interesting to see a very nice villa complete with its own collection of livestock:

Seeing this in deepest Dubai suburbia, reminded me of an old seventies British Sitcom called "The Good Life" The premise of the show being:

"A middle-class suburban couple, Tom and Barbara Good, decide to go back to the land and turn their Surbiton home into a self-sufficient farm-cum-allotment, growing their own food, keeping animals and making their own tools and equipment."

Seems to me that Mirdiff is the "Good Life" or Surbiton of Dubai - odd that I used to live in Surbiton a few years ago.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Lovely Pair

Spotting super cars is a fun past time in Dubai. Below are a lovely pair of Lamborghini's I saw parked outside the MMI on the Sheikh Zayed Road. The red one being the first V12 Murciélago I have seen in the metal, and the blue one a great example of the V10 Gallardo. I can't imagine there is much storage space in either of these fine vehicles for the couple of crates of liquid refreshment I was busy buying at the time.

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An Al Jazira Secret

The mention of "Al Jazeera" to my mind would conjure up a news network that broke broadcasting ground by showing material often considered dissenting by the western media.

However Al Jazira in this instance is the name of a rather excellent but not well known beach club only about twenty minutes out of Dubai. The nice thing about it for the cost conscious, is the 75AED entry fee at the weekend - this compares very favourably to other more centrally located beach clubs which charge at least 150AED i.e. the Oasis Beach Club for a weekend entry.

The pool is large and clean with a rather interesting "Tatooine" inspired structure situated in the middle of it:

The beach is nice and wide with a variety of activities on offer. There were several people playing volleyball and those keen on water sports will be pleased with the options available. If you are into wake-boarding you will probably enjoy the long, smooth man made canal that they employ for this. Hidden at the back of the beach is a particularly laid back beach bar which provided a great late night venue for relaxing.

The beach at the Al Jazira:

We celebrated a couple of our friends birthday that night and the catering laid on was great. The lucky few stayed over in one of the splendidly, luxurious bungalows - while the rest of us hopped on a "Mitsubishi" branded bus, replete with curtains, on a fast transit back to Dubai. I am seriously considering signing up for a years membership at only 1800AED.

Here the sun goes down on another glorious Dubai weekend:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Electric Blue

My friend Ashley took a great photo on his recent visit to Dubai. I particularly enjoy Sloane's the buffet restaurant there. However, Bar 44 is nice for the views and Buddah Bar is a Dubai institution with the "in" crowd. The Grosvenor has a lot to offer.

My favourite bit about this hotel is the Australian singer in the lobby - especially her rendition of "Midnight at the Oasis". Her vocal has a nice, smooth and relaxing tone. A perfect accompaniment to a G&T.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Last week saw me make my maiden trip to Budapest, Hungary. Having been to a number of European cities sat on rivers I was not surprised by the amazing architecture - but more the sheer amount of it. Everywhere I looked there were postcard like views.

I stayed at the very nice Art'Otel on the Buda side of the Danube. I was lucky to have a hotel room facing the the river and was treated to a spectacular vista of the Hungarian Parliament:

I got to stay three enjoyable evenings with one of the highlights being dinner at the Spoon Cafe which is situated on a 75 meter boat. Not only was the food excellent - but the view across the river and onto the Buda Castle (when using the facilities) is staggering at night:

The weather was really warm and I eagerly took the opportunity for a short walking tour of the city - which involved first taking the local underground metro which was clean and efficient. The first stop we made was at Heroes' Square :

Then a short walk over to Vajdahunyad Castle which contained some nice buildings, is surrounded by a mote and has some interesting statues. Here Basil seeks some ancient history guidance:

While Alan touches the quill of "Anonymous" for good luck:

If time had allowed I would love to have spent a whole day enjoying the Gellert Baths:

I had a nice time in Budapest, but as usual there are still a wealth of other attractions I missed out on. I look forward to going back and taking more of this historical in.

Warning -- The U.S. Embassy circulates a list of restaurants that engage in "unethical business practices" such as "excessive billing," using "physical intimidation" to compel payment of excessive bills, and "assaulting customers" for nonpayment of excessive bills. If you don't want to encounter the "restaurant mafia," avoid these places.