Thursday, July 31, 2008

So much to do, so much to see, so what's wrong with taking the back steets...

The Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, still being built. The puny appearing buildings you see around it are regular height skyscrapers. (The cranes you see are closer, giving a slightly skewed perspective)

Three day weekend, people!!! Transportation! Sweeeeeeet.

Wednesday evening we went to the Mall of the Emirates, another huge and typically over-the-top shopping area. The famous Ski Dubai is there. It's decadent to have an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert; Mike and I both thought it'll be a great thing for the kids to do in the middle of winter when the holidays roll around. The entire thing is designed to approximate having been plucked out of an alpine mountain resort; pine trees and outcroppings of rock, sled trails for the helmet and snowsuit-clad children, ice sculptures...OK, so that last part is pure Dubai.

The kids are summarily unimpressed with the glitz and glamour of the malls, just taking it all in stride, which is great. I was more struck by the whirlwind of cultures, their dress and languages swirling around us, all flowing into a confluence of color and movement. The drive to shop uniting the world.

Of all the things there, the kids were most enthralled by...the moving sidewalks that connect upper floors to lower. Thomas had to be bodily restrained from getting back on for a 3rd ride up and back down. These sidewalks are very convenient for people with loaded shopping carts. The only limit to the high-end label and haute couture acquisition that may be done there is your wallet and common sense. There seems to be a lot of inconsistency in those attributes, but this doesn't appear to cause undue worry.

Going out to the parking lot in the evening air, we were instantly drenched in the heat and humidity. This was beyond sticky. This was sopping. Ugh.

We had it easy though; apparently the commute home from the job site for those who hadn't come in early was a long and slow one, due to a sandstorm and very limited visibility. Here in the city we couldn't see very far into the distance, and noticed the winds, but really didn't get the real experience.

Thursday morning we headed out to nearby Jumirah Beach Resort. I was sooooo happy.

The waters of the Gulf are as clear and turquoise blue as any travel brochures might wish (these photos don't so it justice) and the soft white sand invites, punctuated by beautiful seashells for the gathering. Bethy could barely tear herself away from collecting shells long enough to test the waters. The Gulf is bathtub warm, salty and buoyant. I zipped off the bottom half of my pants (handy to have here, these!) and splashed most happily in.

The heat by 10 AM is far too great for any sort of extended stay outdoors, so when we go again (oh, yes, we will be going again and again and again...) it'll be at dawn or before. The sand away from the water is both blisteringly hot and blazingly white, so we carried the kids back to the relative oasis of air conditioned car and headed out back onto the road for some exploring.

Thus far we have yet to go directly to anywhere we are trying to go. Generally we pay at least one extra toll from going the wrong way on the freeway, and practice vehicular circumlocution (and other sorts of locution) to find our destinations. Since we're generally in no hurry, this works out fine for us most of the time. I am quite grateful that gas here is so inexpensive.

We headed along the coast through the city of Sharjah. We had been warned not to go through Sharjah as newcomers, so of course we did and got lost enough that we ran out of paved road for a while, driving though neighborhoods of homes bedecked with bright bougainvillea , gated Iranian and Pakistani schools, little dusty shops, elaborate ironwork gates and fences, painted and worn, wonderful.

There are lots of "Ladies Only Beauty Saloons" which cracked me up, and we loved this version of the ever-popular dollar store:

1-2 Dhs? Such a deal.

Back to the paved areas and past the exquisite mosques and buildings of cream and white, we decided rather than starve to death we'd do the heinous American thing and pick up some McDonalds (which actually tasted delicious since we were so darned hungry from circling).

Sated, we headed up the coast again, past desert, salt flats and coral reefs to Umm Al Quwain and it's lagoon, Khor al-Baydah, where we might have glanced at some tax-free alcoholic beverages, and then we headed back towards Dubai on the Emirates Road. This was scrubby sandy desert, broken by the occasional camp, solitary or small groupings of trees, the bright sand blowing across the road in waves. The camel search was on.

Donkeys were deemed boring. Goats, blasé.

Then, the first unmistakable shapes were spotted, intelligently reclining in the shade of trees. Even our air conditioned car going 120 km/hr had begun to feel like an oven, (Mike confessed he'd turned the blowers towards himself and forgotten to turn mine back on and towards me). As soon as we could, our little car pulled over onto the sand shoulder near one of these dromedary gatherings and Bethy and I sprinted out into the furnace, for perhaps 6 steps until we slowed to a prudent but still excited gait toward the noble beasts, the Ata Allah, "God's Gift" to the Bedouins.

Her expression pretty much tells the rest of the story.

The flocks of flamingoes down the road didn't impress even a third as much, not being pink enough to suit our little girl.

Returning to the hotel, after well-earned naps, the kids and I hit up the pool, watching the wind push around the palms and the horizon disappear, the ever-present sun suddenly absent as another sand storm rolled in.

That evening, after safely settling the kids with another sweet babysitter, having our taxi poached, and the doorman intrepidly hunting down another one after 15 minutes, Mike and I met 3 folk from his office at Pachanga to celebrate Rosealie's birthday (the dear Filipina who taught Bethy how to roll lumpia). I was appalled at the prices, and not terribly hungry anyway, so I chose at random from the starter menu.
The result was unappetizing to my unrefined palate; paper thin sliced raw circles of fish, with hard bones that made me check and double check my fillings, topped with slices of licorice-y fennel. I ate it in uncomplaining manner (except to Mike, in undertones!) anyway, chalking it up to culinary experience, as we were entertained by Ken (from Seattle) amusing us by saying in as many languages as he could "Hey baby, who's your daddy?", Frank, (also of Seattle stock) regaling us with word plays on the theme of "riding Willy", his wife's champion Frisian show horse Wilhelm, and Rosealie, a quieter sort, answering questions pleasantly but briefly, in contrast to the rest of us verbose Seattle types.
Frank, in typical thoughtful and generous fashion, supplemented my meal with beans and rice unasked, as we prattled away. The wine was worth the price of admission. Then, oh then came dessert. Now, my haute cuisine palate may be underdeveloped, but my chocolate aesthetic is well tended. The Argentinian style chocolate souffle accompanied by vanilla bean ice cream and custard was the best I've ever had. Mike, not a dessert sort of fellow, managed to help it disappear.
I couldn't help but notice the disparity in the cost of my after-dinner cocktail (mojito, 45 Dhs) and the 15 minute taxi ride home (17.50 Dhs).

Beach, camels, chocolate souffle with liquid center and chocolate nibs...

I'd say that pretty much defines a perfect day.


*Paula* said...

Oooh - you had me at chocolate soufflé! It sounds magical but so very hot. I'm sure this Irish girl would have completely melted at this stage :)

Natalie said...

Hey Paula! I looked at the weather back in Seattle: raining with a high temperature of 18.8 C and raining. Here the high today was 43 C. There are plenty of Irish lads here, and they seem to do well as long as there's Guinness at the end of the day.
I would've shared the souffle with you. Now I'm prowling for a recipe...

sherrip said...


I am glad you finally got to see the camels! They are very cool and thanks to your mommy for posting the picture!

Anonymous said...

I want to giggle listening to you talking about driving. I had to learn driving in Canada and then Seattle.
Like you say ,I went for many a joyride in your good old Seattle! Also making the odd u-turn. Microsoft might have helped new drivers, as I notice, many more signs these days. If you are on the highway and come down a ramp with a west and east sign with no city you are in for another u-turn !
But I had the good lawfull USA drivers .
Having to drive on the other side,in CA ,I just always repeated my Mothers words to me ,always drive on your Mothers side till I got it!
Still to this day ,my husband have to say," so are you driving ?"as I go to the driverside. Once in the car that does'nt thankfully happen.
We imported our own car to England
but only being there for a while I got away with letting my husband drive , I was used to fast and reckless driving in South Africa but those round-abouts had me !

Take care and just "go for the ride", as we say!
Hope you will write a book!