Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sundown on an Arabian Adventure

With my friend Charlie visiting for a long weekend and my usual 4x4 buddies not around, I decided it might be time to try out a desert safari. It is not hard to notice the whole host of tour branded Land Cruisers around Dubai - I had always wondered if these would be any good. Certainly you occasionally encounter a number of them around Big Red - usually coming down a steep dune at an unusual angle - so I guess they must know what they are doing.

I chose the popular "Sundowner" Desert Safari with Arabian Adventures based on a few recommendations. They are certainly well organised with a safety briefing to start out with, plenty of water on hand, military like timing and a good sense of fun throughout. I was impressed by the size of the tour and the day we went, there were over 40 vehicles in the convoy.

The ride in the sand dunes took place in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which was about a 50 minute drive out of Dubai. I am glad we went there as I would have been disappointed to go on a trail I had all ready been on. Here we are just outside the conserve about to air down:

After a fairly moderate bit of off road (which was really more based on fun than any particularly challenging terrain) - we stopped to check out a camel farm then moved to another spot to watch the sunset. Charlie did her best to try and catch a sun beam:

There was plenty of opportunity to stop during the desert safari, get out of the car and take some pictures. This gave me a good time to test my newly acquired crocs in the sand. The end result is that not only are they very comfortable for general mooching around in but I declare them also to be desert grade (at least while the sand is not super-heated)

Here are said crocs - enjoying the sunset:

After sunset we were taken to a camp for the rest of the evening. Here you can go on a camel ride, smoke shisha or even have a henna tatoo:

Once they had served dinner then came the entertainment in the form of a very excitable belly dancer who got people up gyrating frantically to an eclectic mix of music. She was very difficult to refuse as she literally yanked me off my comfortable cushion:

Overall - I really enjoyed the day. At 279Dhs which included the evening meal, beverages (surprisingly alcohol as well), the camel riding, henna and shisha it has not to give it 10/10 for value. The best bit of the day though was meeting some really nice people with whom I shared a laughter filled evening. Highly recommended.

Into the World of Blu

Since acquiring both of the competing next gen high definition video format players (Blu-Ray on PS3 and HD-DVD on xbox 360) I have been wanting to experience just how good these formats are.

HD-DVD was easy as the xbox drive ships with King Kong - and while the movie is not my favourite the picture and sound are excellent. Sadly the PS3 ships with not even a demo disc - so Blu Ray quality had eluded me until this weekend.

While browsing the new release DVDs in Virgin Megastore (Mall of the Emirates) I noticed they have a small selection of Blu-Ray movies. In a rush of excitement I grabbed a couple of discs - making sure not to buy something I all ready owned - and took them home to audition the competing format.

The first Blu-Ray disc I played was fittingly titled Into the Blue. As expected the picture quality was eye popping though I may have been swayed by the numerous scenes featuring a swim suit clad Jessica Alba, the sound quality was also equally as impressive.

Huge debates rage on message forums across the web as to which is better on any number of factors. Sonically it is hard for me to choose between them so my criteria is as follows -

1. Whichever is cheaper for the movie I want
2. Whichever the format the movie is on
3. If both of these are the same - then Blu-Ray wins as I prefer the PS3 user interface

I will watch with interest the format war - but if given a choice I am going to be buying Hi-Def DVDs of one sort or another whenever possible.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stuff ME

If you have been reading my blog you will have noticed that I could easily be descried in the "early adopter" or "gadget man" categories. I enjoy reading various blogs and magazines about what is happening in the world of technology.

So it was with great pleasure when I recently asked to make a small contribution to Stuff Magazine Middle East in a regular "Joe Gadget" column featuring a regular guy (me this month) to talk a little about their favourite piece of technology - I chose my Sony Ericsson w950i. I want to thank Paddy (the Editor) for putting me in print and kindly agreeing to let me reproduce the article here - and at only 10AED an issue it sure beats paying the 40AED for the UK or US editions.

A fellow blogger and friend of mine Chris made it into the inaugural issue - below is my appearance in issue 4 - currently available at news stands and all good book stores.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

You can count on some things...

Like Jonny Wilkinson returning to play in his first England Rugby International and doing something remarkable - in this case against Scotland at the weekend going through the card (drop goal, conversion, try and penalty)

Like the England International Football team playing in a mid-week fixture with a host of first team choices unavailable through injury and the scratch team putting on a poor performance for the manager to be vilified in the UK tabloid press the following morning.

Like when it snows in the UK and the country goes into shut down. All I did was to get up a little earlier, clear the snow from the car and drive down empty roads. I am not sure how my trip home later today will be however - I can imagine fairly fraught. A picture from the office window this morning:

London - Gangsta Style

I have had to return to the UK this week to attend a business workshop. It is always nice to go back home and enjoy a few of the things that I miss a little whilst in Dubai. These for me include:

1. Capital Radio
2. British TV (Match of the Day)
3. Fish and Chips
4. The British press
5. Seeing my friends

However I was not missing the weather and the forecast is predicting snow tomorrow...which could well mean the Great British rush hour will turn into the Great British traffic jam.

At Europcar I usually ask if I can upgrade from the standard issue Kia Rio to something a bit more fun - I had a sporty little Astra last time. This time, I was asked if I would like to upgrade to a Chrysler 300c for the princely sum of 9Pounds a day. Seemed like a bargain to drive around in a "gangsta style" car for a few days:

It has been an enjoyable experience - however the huge expanse of bonnet that sits before you and cavernous interior make its American roots obvious. Though its underpinnings are from Mercedes it somehow is unable to shake its barge like handling abilities. Not a car I would buy and has tough competition from the German manufacturers but the looks are growing are me for reasons I can't really explain.

If the snow does comes tomorrow I will be wishing I had my Hummer to drive.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Table Top at the Bottom of the World

After a tough week in Johannesburg with the local team I made my first visit to Cape Town. A short but busy flight and I was literally transported to what felt like a whole new country.

I was told numerous times that it would be very relaxed - but I was still surprised how laid back the place was and more importantly how much safer I felt it was than Joburg. On arrival at the hotel I decided to skip the Shuttle to the Waterfront and take a stroll there instead. It was a refreshing change as in Johannesburg I was not able to walk anywhere.

The Waterfront is one of the many tourist attractions that Cape Town has to offer and was buzzing with street acts and people eating at one of the many restaurants. At night the place comes alive and looks really rather good:

Feeling refreshed the following day I was joined by some of my colleagues from the local team and partner. They proceeded to provide warm hospitality and treated me to an excellent weekend. First stop was lunch at Camps Bay. It appears this is the spot to hang out and be seen. We took a more low key approach and grabbed lunch at Blue's Restaurant which provided a very nice setting:

After lunch we took the hire car on a little drive up to Chapman's Peak. It is a toll road now - they used the money to make major safety improvements on the coastal road and to prevent errant landslides. I would have probably paid considerably more judging by the awesome views:

And we also took a little detour to the very exclusive town of Llandudno. Where the houses are carved into the hillside and provide vistas that are truly world class:

It seems with so much to look at it would be easy to make a small error on the road. Rather like this unfortunate chap:

After Chapman's Peak I was luck enough to get the cable car up Table Mountain. As it was the J&B Met at the time - there was no queue and we shot straight up. I am told at peak season the queues can be very long. I think this picture speaks for itself and going up there rivals my trips to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park for wow factor:

On the Sunday we took a short drive out to Constania Wine estate. We had a relaxed time having a leisurely drink and wander around whilst enjoying the perfect weather. It was so odd to be in a place that was so verdant and relaxed. I could have been anywhere - New Zealand, France, California, Australia - it was odd to imagine I was actually in Africa.

The end of the weekend and with some local knowledge we took a drive to Kalk Bay and visited a stunning sea side restaurant called "Harbour House" - not only was the food incredibly good but was also very well priced (for Europeans). I could not pass up the opportunity to try the Crayfish:

Cape Town taught me that there is another side to South Africa which is somewhat mis-represented by the reputation of Johannesburg. I can see now why South Africans often elect to go back home after periods abroad. I for one will be going back soon as there is so much more to see and do there. If I were to describe my time in Cape Town in word - easy really - Lekker!

Revenge of the Hummer Recovery Vehicle

On my recent trip to Cape Town I spotted a nice modified Wrangler:

Now I have written a number of times that Chris's Wrangler is often recovering the Hummer from "stucks" in the sand and probably has the T-Shirt for doing it so often. Though I should get him the sticker as well:

Thursday, February 01, 2007


The Dubai International Capital group have withdrawn from their proposed take over of Liverpool FC. This leaves George Gillett who owns the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey. Shame really I would liked to have a little piece of the Red Army in Dubai.