Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cold and Crisp

I have had another busy and productive week in South Africa. I like coming to Johannesburg at this time of year as the winter weather here makes a pleasant diversion from the stifling summer weather which has arrived early in Dubai this year.

What I like about Johannesburg weather at this time of year is that the mornings are crisp and clear with a gradual warm up in the day inviting afternoon al fresco dining.

This morning when I woke up and looked out of the window of the hotel I am currently staying at, I was treated to a rather dramatic scene:

Seeing such beautiful weather I can not help but think of the victims of the weather that is the polar opposite, such as the cyclone that recently hit Oman and is causing so much destruction in Karachi - my thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Weekend Tourist

One of the upsides of residing in Dubai is that I have been blessed by numerous visits from my friends and family. So far it is averaging one visit a month since I got here a year ago. I enjoy having visitors and have managed to establish a "must do list" that comfortably fills a week. This week I had my young cousin with his friend visit me in the first leg on a three month around the world trip.

As young lads their lists of wants was a little different from folk my age - they wanted to do all the normal things (Wild Wadi, Desert Safari, Souks etc) but with liberal sprinklings of pubs, clubs and general nightlife.

Wednesday night I took them for some quiet drinks in the Medinat and they were really impressed by the resident jazz band at JamBase. This was followed by some late night people spotting at Bar 44 and Buddah Bar.

The smooth crooning and relaxing tunes was really memorable for them - I find it one of my favorite Dubai night spots. It reminds me of a little piece of New York here in Dubai:

The following night, the start of the weekend, they joined me and my colleagues for some lively post-work drinks. Later that night, I made my way and home and they made it to the Peppermint Lounge, but were looking suitably strung out by then:

Then on the Friday night to make it a hat trick of nights out on the tiles - I was dragged along to "deep" at the aptly named Trilogy to witness Benny Banassi play to a very excited crowd. This was my first ever visit and I was impressed by the energy in the club but slightly less impressed at how packed it was:

On the Saturday, to relax, I took them to the Al Jazira beach club to do some water sports and take in some 45c sunshine. I have really grown to like the Al Jazira - despite not arriving till 1pm we easily found sun beds and the whole place is laid back and easy going.

There are now some fun water inflatables including an iceberg to climb, trampolines to bounce on and even a huge water based see-saw. This provided some hilarious moments:

Later in the day Duncan, took my cousin and his friend wake-boarding for their first time. They found it tough and both vowed to give it another try. Duncan made it look easy doing it one handed and impressing us by getting some nice "air" and generally looking like a pro:

I have had to cut the weekend short and head down to South Africa for the relative sedate life of back to back customer meetings all week.

My cousin and his friend will spend the rest of the week going on a desert safari, going to wild wadi and taking a trip to Dubai's various souks and the creek. I am sure it will be interspersed with visits to Zinc, Rock Bottoms and Barasti before they leave Dubai for Thailand. Who ever said youth was wasted on the young?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Say that again?

It is easy in Dubai to take things for granted. However, over the last 36 hours I have just been amazed at a few ordinary everyday things:

1. Someone is willing to spend 11 million AED ($3m) on a number plate
2. My landlord wants to put the rent up 46% to any tenant willing to lease the apartment I will move out of shortly, 130k AED ($35k) last year to an amazing 190k AED ($51k) this year
3. After a fun, but messy, party at said apartment. I can lie in bed while my maid service turns up within one hour and within three hours you would never have known a party had ever happened and all for 75 AED ($20)
4. While lying in bed - a short phone call will get the cafe French Connection to deliver me a continental breakfast for 25 AED ($7)
5. In 42C temperature and humidity well over 80% - I can have my vehicle washed, vacuumed and detailed by five chaps for 20 AED ($5)

However, seeing your Dubai friends having a great time at a party you have just thrown:


Monday, June 11, 2007

Spicy Cheese with an American Pudding

As a Dubai Marina resident I tend to find myself going no further down the SZR than the Mall of the Emirates so when I was asked to go into deepest Deira I thought it best to bring a packed lunch and my iPod for the journey.

One of the original founding fathers of the famous all you can eat and drink Dubai buffet is Spice Island, situated in Renaissance Hotel in Deira. On my visit last Friday evening it was as popular as ever with long trestle like tables hosting several large birthday gatherings. For this type of celebration it is an excellent choice of venue. For a paltry 189AED you get access to a wide variety of buffet food, including six “live cooking stations” as well as a very generous selection of beverages. I was surprised to see the very tasty Asahi japense lager and even the mighty Conquistador Tequila included in their drink selection. It hardly seemed worth going for the “premium” package for 239AED just to drink Corona and Jose Cuervo instead.

The meal was fun and social – with numerous musical chairs going on as we got to talk and eat with most of the large group who attended. It also seemed that everyone was in the restaurant was doing this as well leading to a fairly boisterous environment – probably not the ideal venue for a more intimate rendezvous.

Once we were fed and watered we thought we had better work some of it off by visiting a packed and very hot night club. So we took the short cab ride over to the “The Lodge” for their seventies cheese night. Again this was my first visit to The Lodge. I was greeted by a very busy nightclub complete with very big bouncers. The place was busy with mostly western Expats dancing like extras from a seventies re-run of Top of the Pops to some very cheezy music. After a lot to drink it was fun and other than the sweltering heat I would have sworn I was in a London nightclub.

Here I am doing my best Boogie Nights dance:

The one effect of a very hot and busy nightclub was a very slippery dance floor. It made for some interesting dance moves but when intoxicated was also rather treacherous. Leading to a friend of mine preforming an unintended John Travlota hand jive to a back spin in one fell swoop. Needless to say this looked very painful and led to immediate swelling and blackening of her wrist.

Following this – we thought it might be best to get the wrist checked out to ensure there was no fracture or break. I was volunteered to chaperone my injured friend to the nearest hospital. This turned out to be a very short 4AED cab ride away – I felt sorry for the poor driver who had been waiting for a long time in the snaking taxi queue. I made sure to leave him a generous tip.

On entry to the Emergency Room at the American hospital we were quickly greeted by a porter with a wheel chair for my friend. Following a quick registration form and medical history we were whisked straight away to see a very friendly Doctor who after a short consultation sent my friend for an x-ray. This took place almost immediately in one of the many state of the art treatment rooms. The whole upshot was no fracture, a wrist support, some paracetamol and a bill for 800AED.

We were told that usually on a Friday night there would be a two to four hour wait – this Friday we were the only visitors. The Doctor claimed that people wanted to stay in their houses due to the recent cyclone Gonu that had recently swept across parts of the UAE and Oman. In all it was a very pleasant experience compared to the UK, where I have on more than one occasion spent a weekend evening in the company of swathes of injured and drunken people in the Accident and Emergency rooms across Britain.

Certainly not my most usual evening out in Dubai – but still memorable nonetheless.

Friday, June 08, 2007


I have just noticed that two days ago - marked the first Anniversary of "An Englishman in Dubai". It has gone so fast I can barely believe it. If I look back this blog is certainly the longest I have ever kept any sort of diary and has now attracted over sixteen thousand visits and I have posted 157 articles, thanks to all the readers and those of you who have left kind comments. I would never have thought this possible a year ago.

I look forward to another year of blogging and here are my top ten moments of the year in relation to this blog:

  1. Appearing on Eye on Dubai radio to talk about blogging
  2. Being published in Gulf News
  3. Making numerous new friends through this blog
  4. Being able to blog about countries I had visited for the first time including - KSA, Egypt, Qatar, Russia , South Africa, Italy, Hungary and Oman
  5. Being recommended by the highly regarded Grapeshisha guide to blogging in the UAE
  6. Contributing to the UAE Community Blog
  7. Getting a 4/5 star rating on the Guardian Abroad website
  8. Being able to immortalise some special moments - like Nthabeleng singing in Dresden and buying my flat in Dubai
  9. Blogging about appearing in Stuff and Wheels magazines
  10. Being able to share some fun photos - my favourite being of Dubai Marina in the post Light Fantastic

I wonder what the next 12 months hold? Only time will tell.


International rugby weekends hold a special attraction for me. It is one of the few things I have missed over the last 12 months since having moved to Dubai. Basically the regime is a week long and includes:

1. Reading the internet news feeds on both teams preparation's
2. Watching the pundits on the TV review the teams chances
3. Talking to my colleagues about how the match will go

And on the morning of the game:

1. Enjoying the broadsheet analysis of the match
2. Typically whilst enjoying a "Full English Breakfast" essential in preparing for the drinking marathon ahead
3. Donning the team colours and meeting up with old friends to enjoy a couple of pre-match refreshments

The walk into the ground is great - with a noticeable palpation of excitement from the crowd, then the first glimpse of the lush green field when you first take your seat. The anticipation as the teams run out and the anthems sung. This for me is always the best part - the build up. The excitement. The crowd. The noise. The smells. The atmosphere. The match in some ways is incidental to a fantastic day out with your friends.

Last weekend I was able to experience this exact thing - only this time I was at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. I was in the fortunate position of being invited to a business partners box for the second test match between South Africa and England.

The match was a foregone conclusion. Though England put up a strong defence for the first fifty minutes holding them 22-22 and even going into half-time with a slight lead. This had the huge partisan crowd slightly on edge

The wheels on the chariot soon came off 30 minutes later - as I witnessed an unanswered try deluge from South Africa. To leave the hapless England team fatigued, bruised and defeated by an impressive 33 points:

Results aside - England have a lot to do in three short months prior to the world cup. Sure, they had 30 players left in England, sure there was a stomach virus in the squad. Nevertheless they were battered twice in two weeks - comprehensively. South Africa can consider it job done and will look forward to refining their plans through the Tri-Nations.

Me on the other hand - I wore my England shirt with pride. Much to the dismay of numerous South African supporters, Loftus is a pretty hostile place in this respect. I admired their team loyalty as many of them Brai'd hard before the match and the smell of lamb chops hung heavy before and after the match.

It was an excellent day - and my first chance to see live Rugby Union in South Africa. I dearly hope to go again.

I was also really impressed that once the players had left the field they opened the gates up for the children to run riot on the field. A lot of kids were having the time of their lives - sad we can not do the same at Twickenham:

Roll on the Tri-Nations and the World Cup!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Out of Sharms way

Another first visit to a country for me this week – Egypt. On arrival at Cairo airport passport control I was greeted with a rather chaotic mass of people. Some in queues for the foreign exchange and visa stamps. Others in the immigration queue and yet others just milling around looking confused – I was in the latter group. After immigration and showing my passport to at least three other guards in white cotton outfits we had to head across to the domestic terminal. Usually a simple task complicated by the fact that the shuttle bus has been delayed for sometime. So we took a cab then involved a ten minute walk to ride in a taxi for five minutes.

This give me my first experience of Egyptian driving and during those five minutes I observed the following:

1.Dubai driving seems polite in comparison
2.Constant use of the horn is mandatory
3.Wing mirrors are for decoration and a lot of older cars had dispensed with them entirely
4.Reversing up one way streets is standard
5.After honking at a car – if you manage to overtake them, you must then punctuate this by shouting something in Arabic at the slower vehicle
6.Egypt seems to be the place where Fiat's come to die

I look forward to my first trip in a car to Cairo city center – but that will be another time as I headed straight for Sharm El-Sheikh.

Sharm El-Sheikh is most famous for its position next to the Red Sea which provides a sought after destination for divers. The clear, deep and very salty water of the Red Sea provides a great environment for large coral reefs and an abundance of brightly colored marine life.

Like my previous visit to an exotic location (Mauritius) this was for a partner sales conference. It is certainly a far cry from the locations in the UK where I have attended similar events.

The event was held at the Jolie Ville – Movenpick. It is a huge sprawling resort which reminded me of a Butlins type resort but on steroids i.e. Huge main swimming pool, big rooms, more swimming pools and even a man made “Treasure Island Beach”. Seeing this wooden structure on the coast reminded me of the set of the pirate show at the TI casino in Las Vegas:

We made the (long) hike to the Treasure Island Beach and had some fun leaping of the pier into the crystal waters of the Red Sea. My friend Basil made the best leap with a “Back flip, with semi twist and half pike and maximum splash” It was a a good effort and I rated it 9.1/10 – here he is in full flow:

It was eerily quiet on my visit as I guess most of the tourists were staying downtown at Na'aama Bay about five kilometers away. Though there were a smattering of Russian and American tourists which made a nice contrast.

On my final night in Sharm El Shiekh I will ventured to the main drag of Na'ama bay to soak up some of the Apres Beach night life. We had a lot of fun in the Little Buddah bar till late in the night:

A pleasant surprise on the way back to Dubai was being one of the first visitors to Sharm El Sheikh's new airport - which can only be described as an oasis of tranquility compared to the chaos in Cairo airport. I came away with two things from Egypt. One was sun burn and the other a dose of "Delhi Belly" - I will try and be more careful next time.