Friday, November 30, 2007

Fifteen Love

Despite living on Wimbledon Park Road for nearly two years when I was working in London, I had never got the chance to actually ever watch any live professional tennis. When I got a call from a good friend last Saturday afternoon asking if I wanted to go to the "The Legends Rock Dubai" tennis tournament I jumped at the chance.

The tournament was held at the Irish Village and I always wondered what it would be like inside the tennis stadium. Upon entering, I was greeted with a nicely presented, intimate arena. With the weather a perfect 24c and a cool breeze, it was a wonderful evening to sit outside and watch some tennis.

The first match was Thomas Muster playing Michael Stich in the third place playoff. I had admired Stich's service for many years and vividly remember him dominating Wimbledon on the fast grass surface with his power serves. While some of the flat out speed might be gone the same graceful action was evident and it was great to watch:

Sadly Stich lost in a competitve yet friendly match. Then after, we were all in a for a real treat, with the doubles exhibition match with Pat Cash and Mansour Bahrami versus Cedric Pioline and Mikael Pernfors.

For the next hour or so Mansour really stole the show, with lavish through the leg shots, cheeky jokes with his opponents and often some quite outrageous tennis shots. It was excellent fun and I would have loved to seen a double match with both Mansour and Nastase. Here they are at the end of the match and Pat Cash was wearing his trademark headband - which you can buy online with proceeds going to charity.

The atmosphere at the tennis was really family friendly with an MC between matches, rock music between sets and some great entertainment between matches. My favorites were two opposing dance troupes who put on a great show for about ten minutes:

Following the light hearted previous two matches the final between Jim Courier and Paul Haarhuis was a much more intense and serious affair. Quite rightly, considering there was $50,000 on the line for the victor. While Paul Haarhuis easily won the match it was a real treat for me to see Jim Courier in action. He really is a legendary tennis player of the modern era and to see the unusual whipping service that he produces was a treat. I managed to get a shot that I thought really encapsulated the energy he puts into it:

It was a really entertaining evening and something I would highly recommend going to at least once. It is especially family friendly and even better for me - I got in gratis thanks to my friends. A perfect way to unwind after the hectic Rome party at the start of the weekend. Tomorrow is the final of the Dubai Sevens - more live sport - I can't wait.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

The time of year has come around for one of Dunk's rather infamous parties. I had the pleasure of going to the last one which was themed on the Circus. Now a flat mate at the villa I had good fortune of being involved in the preparation for the one we had last weekend.

I had always fancied having a toga party but to give it a people wider range of options we decided on "Rome" as a theme. Rupert let his creative juices flow and came with an excellent invite:

And with the power of Facebook we had soon sent out over 200 invites. This was a great tool for organizing an event as it easily tracks the RSVPs, lit et us build more hype with further photshopped romanesque pictures and as we got closer to the event we even put up some teaser video trailers which provided us all with endless entertainment.

One of the main reasons people make a big effort with their costumes is that typically 90%+ of people will also be dressed up and the villa will be sympathetically decorated. There was no exception this time and with 175 yards of material, some genius inspiration and a couple of late nights with everyone pitching in we made a mini "Rome" for the night. Here is the entrance:

Upon walking through the garage it really set the mood and it was continued throughout the garden with billowing deep red and white fabric surrounding the bar, walls and trees of the garden.

Though for me, the party mood was set off with a couple of special extras we got for the night. For a start we had our own Chicken Shwarma man for the evening who was cooking up delicious savory kebabs which the mostly inebriated crowd ate with gusto. It was a good job we all ate at least one as they seemed to be made with garlic and the covered in jus d'garlic - but they were very tasty.

Moving into the villa the famous "ball pool" made a re-appearance that led to the mother of all ball fights later that night. It was hard not to laugh as several Centurion's downed their swords in favor of primary colored plastic balls as their weapons of choice.

Just to make sure we really pushed the bar for this party - we clubbed together and acquired a laser show and smoke machine and for one night only had a dance floor to rival any of the mega clubs in Dubai. Well at least in terms of crazy dancing.

As usual - the costumes were just teriffic. Here are the house mates - both past and present:

Here I am enjoying myself:

I was so impressed with all the ladies - they looked so elegant in their ancient dresses:

It was a stellar night in every sense of the word. I think the kebab man gave everyone some extra energy and the party went on until 5am. I have a feeling it was a legendary party but I am all a bit hazy after about 11pm. One thing I did learn - was that wearing multi-colored stripy underwear is not a great idea with a very see through roman emperor outfit. A brilliant night - we have all ready started planning the follow on next year. Stay tuned for "Rock"

Sometimes Honesty is a Bad Thing

I spotted the following sign on a restaurant this week in Dubai:

While I appreciate the honesty - I do not think I will be in hurry to visit them once they re-open

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How Does Your Garden Grow?

When I was a kid I use to be dragged around garden centers on a Sunday which was something I was never a fan of and as a consequence I still get a queasy feeling about visiting such places today. So when Duncan (my housemate) asked me if I wanted visit the plant souq my response was "errrr, ok" but as this is is Dubai nothing is ever quite as you might expect.

We took the short trip to Jadaf which is close to Garhoud bridge and seemingly out of nowhere was a verdant strip of green which stood out in sharp contrast to the usual roadside desert.

Mooching around the plant souq was great. The watering of the plants and dense foliage made for a very cool environment that made for pleasant browsing. I probably could have spent hours there rooting around. The choice of plants, tree and shrubs was great. Everything from Bonsai Trees to exotic house plants and all green plants in between:

Of course everything is negotiable and even on just asking the price on a very nice cheese plant I was surprised the chap only wanted 120AED ($30) for perfect specimen well over four feet tall. Two things amused me - one was the "slang" names that are used for the plants that sound like the latin but are spelled phonetically and the way the discounts get much better if you are buying more than one piece.

Here is a little transcript of the conversation we had when buying some Indian Privet:

"Hello, Do you have any Clerondendrons?"

"Yes, we are having Dum Dums."

"Can I see them please?"

"Yes, here - many Dum Dums"

"How much are they please?"

"12 piece Dum Dum ,25 Dirhams"

"I would like to buy 60 pieces please"

- short break while the manager is consulted

"12 piece Dum Dum ,15 Dirhams"

"So that would be 75 Dirhams for 60 then?"

- Laughter "Too much Dum Dum"

Here is the friendly sales guy helps us make the Clerondendron - and he insisted on giving " three piece Dum Dum extra" as a parting gift.

If I knew buying plants could be so much fun - I would have been down the plant souq so much sooner. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to kill a few hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Tale of Four Cities

Last week saw me make a whistle stop tour around the Middle East. As no stranger to travel I did my regular optimized packing but was amazed to find one of my colleagues only brought with him a small roll-a-long with his laptop and all his clothes in it. Made me think that maybe some further compression of my luggage might be in order.

The first city was Dubai, and I had the pleasure of presenting in the conference rooms in the Fairmont Hotel on the 33rd floor. The view was glorious:

Though it did make feel a little queasy - not sure how I will manage if/when I move into my 33rd floor apartment in Dubai Marina early next year.

After the meeting was done I had to make a mad dash to the Gulf Air office in Dubai in order to pick up my paper flight tickets. I will be glad when all the operators move to e-ticketing as it took nearly an hour to get the tickets and I certainly was not flying to to KSA without my onwards tickets in hand.

Flying and arriving into Riyadh was interesting. My trip coincided with the OPEC summit and the Brain Stem Research conference. The end result was all hotels in Riyadh were sold out and it took over and hour to clear immigration where normally it takes an hour.

I was glad to have the hotel limo pick me up - but the travel was heavy and on arrival at the Al Fasilah hotel there was some confusion over the room bookings. The great end result was my and my colleagues each got a nic bedroom serviced apartment for the evening. It was very comfortable and I settled in with room service and a movie on the in room DVD player:

Here is the lounge in the serviced apartment

And here the nice bedroom -

I would have been happy to stay here all week. Following the event to a packed room in the morning I then made a mad dash to get my flight to Doha via Bahrain. Again the busy airport led to a queue of nearly an hour and a half and I only just made the gate in time for the short flight to Bahrain. It was a relaxing flight though I was a little pertubed that my seat mate was an elderly lady who looked liked yoda's grandmother and due to her oxygen tank sounded like Darth Vader's sister.

On landing in Bahrain I only had 45 minutes to transit 30 minutes of which were waiting at the transit desk and convincing the airport staff that I could get a visa on arrival at Doha. Again I barely made the gate. The flight to Doha is only 20 minutes so the staff on the place serve the drinks and snacks before the take off. The good thing on arrival at Doha airport is that it was only a short queue at immigration before I was whisked away to the Intercontinental glad that I had made it.

Since my last trip to Doha - they appear to have gone into overdrive on the construction front and the skyline has changed considerably. I have the feeling that they really have the ability to build a fantastic beach front city attracting world class investment both business wise as well as increased tourism.

The constuction in Doha:

After the event it was evident that a whole host of IT companies had chosen that day to also do various events in Doha. It was nice to see my old colleagues and partners I previously worked with - I was not surprised to find they all wanted to work with me even closer than before. Great I thought, and certainly with the growth in Qatar there will be plenty of opportunity for all.

The last city of the tour was Amman in Jordan. This involved heading back to Bahrain - but this time I had the boarding card for the onward flight to Amman so no transit desk for me. The trip up to Amman was uneventful and not a mad dash. It was actually relaxing and I was able to catch up with three episodes of "The Shield" on the flight

Amman is an exiciting city and you can see clearly the influences from its neighbors on the growth of the place. It reminded me a lot of Istanbul but without the awful traffic. On checking into the Grand Hyatt we all got upgraded to suites as the place was full. I got a nice junior suite but I was a little envious of one of my co-travellers who ended up with the nine room, 250 sq meter Royal suite with a wrap around veranda proividing spectacular views of the city. We worked out he got a 91% discount on the rack rate.

Here is a little sample of the view

Again a good meeting in Amman and we were also treated to dinner at Al Hourwazza restaurant who provided some of the best arabic mixed grill I had ever tried. In fact me and my colleague liked it soo much we had it twice.

It was a long week - tired but happy I flew back to Dubai. My only comment on Jordan is that I think their airport is feeling a little old and worn out and could use an upgrade. On refelection on the week I though I would give some awards:

Best View - 33rd Floor Fairmont Hotel, Dubai
Best Breakfast - Grand Hyatt, Amman
Best Room - Al Fasilah Residences, Riyadh
Best Room Service - Intercontinental, Doha

I have a feeling that this will not be the last Middle East tour I will do - and if I continued to get upgraded suites/apartments it will be a breeze.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oh So Tasty...

I quite enjoy grocery shopping at the moment in Dubai as there is often an eclectic mix of goods ranging from Waitrose juices (I love cloudy apple juice) to a wide range of Indian, Philipino and Asian brands. On a little trip to Choitrams the other day I was delighted to discover Diet Dr Pepper and Tab clear - while costing three times the amount of a regular can of soda (3AED vs 1AED) I was pleased at least to have the option of enjoying something a little different.

Also whilst browsing a range of packet Indian goods caught my eye - with the promise of me simply having to "Heat and Eat" I was put off by the brand name:

Somehow eating "Gits" just does not appeal to me - I am sure it is really good though!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

How Much?

Over the long summer in Dubai with not much to do but shelter from the blistering heat I was wondering how nice it would be to live in the UK again. Although now with the weather changing I am super happy in Dubai. Never the less it still irked me as to why I missed the UK.

Well after a few days back in the UK this week it was very clear to me that I had been wearing rose-tinted sun glasses during the Dubai summer. I guess I am a little bit detached from day to day living in the UK now but everything seemed super expensive and crowded:

1. Petrol - 103p for one liter of unleaded fuel

That is the equivalent of over $8 a gallon where it is about $1.80 in the UAE

2. I thought the the traffic in Dubai was bad till it took me nearly two hours to drive the twenty odd miles from Reading to Basingstoke one afternoon

3. The average cost of a house in the UK is around the 200,000 pound mark - it was 160,000 when I left.

4. I look at some of the very nice places a couple of my friends have brought and am shocked at not the cost of the property per say but rather at the cost per square foot. The places all seem really tiny now. An example - a nice 2 bedroom character apartment of 900ish square foot brought for 2300 AED a sq. foot or my friend's beautiful town house (1500 sq ft) now valued at amazing 3300AED a sq. foot and even my little place in Camberley fetched over 2000 AED a sq. foot.

I suppose I do not feel so bad paying 1200 AED a square foot for my Marina apartment now. Of course all these places are in different locations with different facilities (there are way more in Dubai) - I feel a dollar is a dollar wherever I am and I am currently getting great value in Dubai from a property perspective at least.

Still - I had a nice time, caught up with some friends and manged to get in a Yorkshire pudding fix and it was nice to watch a little British Television.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder - then I need a few more regular trips back to the UK to help me appreciate Dubai a little more.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Desert Recovery

The weather has taken a fantastic turn in Dubai now with the days reaching about 35c and a very pleasant 28c in the evening. This has now opened up the desert for a little bit of dune bashing and we made our first trip this weekend to the old favourite "Fossil Rock" scene of my maiden off road adventure just over a year ago.

Over the summer I had picked up a couple more accessories to my recovery kit

1. A couple of high quality shackles - making it much quicker to attach the tow ropes
2. A high quality tow rope
3. A "Super Max Air" type compressor - we timed it re-inflating one of the Hummer tires from 14PSI to 30PSI in about 80 seconds which was excellent

All of which got used on our first trip out. I thought I might pre-empt the stuck the hummer was going to make by poking a little fun at myself and making a small modification to my spare tyre cover:

However as the trip proceeded it was not the Hummer to get stuck - quite the opposite in fact.

We had a couple of first timers with us and myself and Duncan gave the safety driver briefing beforehand. Duncan led the trip which saw taking in some nice dunes to begin with, however it was not long before Celia in her shiny new Wrangler got stuck. I was some distance away - but we could easily see plumes of sand billowing into the air. This was perhaps a sign that it might take some time to get them out - and when they came back - the wrangler had gotten a nice two tone body colour:

As it was Celia's first time in the sand I let Matt drive the Hummer and I jumped into the Wrangler to provide a little tuition and to re-instil some confidence back into her.

After some quick instructions about how to safely descend a dune and advice when to get on the power, Celia was into the swing of it. She went from "I think this is terrifying" to "I really enjoyed that" by the end of the day. I was pleased, as I remember clearly that having a good co-driver to offer advice and also scream in sympathy is a valuable learning aid.

I really like the Hummer as a day to day car - off road on rocks and dirt trails it is fantastic. However I have always longed for more power under the hood as instant on power can really help out in the dunes. On this trip we had along a big Durango with a huge 5.7 litre HEMI engine. I was keen to see how it would get on. Sadly on this day it did not fare to well getting in two serious stucks, complicated by the fact we could locate no rear recovery point.

On both occasions we had to perform up hill tows which was not ideal and involved a lot of digging of sand and numerous attempts at towing. At one point we had about six guys scrumming down behind the Durango to get some momentum into the tow.

The last stuck for the Durango initially had Duncan using the Pathfinder to drag it out - however a gut-sickening wrenching noise came from his car. He then called in the Hummer to help in the recovery - firstly because we had no idea what the noise was and secondly the weight of a bigger car would help.

I spun the Hummer around and two sharp jerks later the Durango was free from the sand. Here we are setting up the tow:

Sadly this day we did not make it down to Fossil Rock as after the recoveries and a late lunch the light was failing. So instead we had some fun on the dunes. Rupert got a great shot of Duncan and Matt getting some serious air:

Again a really fun day - sure we might not have made it over to Fossil Rock, or driven as many dunes as we all might have liked. We still enjoyed a fun day out, teamed together in recovering the vehicles and a number of us enjoyed fruity cocktails later that night at the Roof Top Terrace bar at the Royal Mirage. It offers an amazing vista of the Palm Jumeriah where we re-told our desert tales and whiled away another balmy evening in Dubai.