February 27, 2010

Creek Dubai

The Creek in Dubai is a fascinating place. Our hotel was near the wharf where cargo boats loaded and unloaded a wide variety of goods--rice, nuts, spices, refrigerators, TVs and probably a kitchen sink or two. All of this activity is done manually. Boats stay at our end of the creek are licensed to stay for only one day, so the work pace is frantic.

After a day spend down in the city viewing the Burj Khalifa--truly a remarkable tower of a building. My little digital couldn't take the world's tallest buildings at one shot, but Peter had better luck with his complex equipment. We also spent time in the Dubai Mall, which featured, among other wonders, a three-story tall aquarium. (It sprang a leak the following day, sending the ground floor into pandemonium before it was repaired.)

That night we decided to cross the creek for dinner and took an abra, small taxi boats that run back and forth the creek with an efficiency that rivals high speed trains. After wandering through the souk (market), we settled on a restaurant overlooking the water. It was fascinating watching the abras come and go, along with the cargo boats leaving harbor to set out for Gulf port and more goods to bring back. Dinner cruise dhows outlined in lights added another visual to the scene, so we were well entertained as we ate.

We're in Cairo now, where it rained for ten hours yesterday and turned cool. Not at all what we were prepared for. We spent today at the Egyptian Museum, which was an amazing look at the civilizations of ancient Egypt. Tomorrow it's on to the pyramids and Sphinx.

February 22, 2010

Onward across the Desert

Since my last post, I’ve been to Al Ain, an oasis in the desert outside Abu Dhabi. This is not a lagoon with a single palm tree such as I remember seeing in old movies. Al Ain is a proper city now, although at one time it was a large green area in the desert. The home of King Zayed, the founder of the United Arab Emirates, has been renovated and is open to the public. I’ll try to send pictures later, but that may not happen until I’m home because of various problems with computer hookups. The home, or palace, is a series of courtyards enclosed by buildings for visitors, the king and his wives and their children. The walls are sand colored (or coloured as they spell here) and must have blended beautifully with the surrounding desert at one time. Now the complex is surrounded by commercial and residential buildings, so the effect is not at as stunning as it once was.

On our way back to Abu Dhabi we found the camel market in a nest of livestock pens. Several emirates stood around, apparently eager to sell us a camel. We were the only “customers” in sight, so when we pulled alongside a pen, two men came to see if we would like a camel. I snapped a quick photo, we smiled pleasantly, and took off.

Yesterday we went in search of the beach, hoping to enjoy a swim on a warm, sunny day. We thought we made clear to the cab driver that we wanted a swimming beach, but he dropped us off at the part under construction. We turned right, thinking we’d hit the beach, but all we hit was a two hour walk along the Corniche, a beautifully designed walkway along the bay. At least it was a beautiful day, but we were dragging by the time we gave up and took a cab back to G&K’s apartment. This cabbie told us as soon as we got in his cab that he was new, which resulted in all the cab’s occupants riding around Abu Dhabi in fairly total ignorance.

Last night we had dinner with some of Gerry’s friends (Brits and Scots) from the newspaper with a plan to go on to a Brit pub for the weekly trivia quiz, but we gathered too late and instead spent the evening laughing and sharing stories. Just as well because I doubt we would have won the quiz.

This morning we toured the newspaper offices with Gerry and got to see him in action with one of the reporters he works with, deciding to go with 700 words for a story in tomorrow’s edition and then a much longer article the following day. He’s obviously enjoying his work as an assigning editor and we’re happy for him.

More about Dubai later.

February 20, 2010

Abu Dhabi charms

Somehow I've misplaced most of Thursday in transit from the US to the UAE, but now that I've corrected some strange problems with the Internet and my blog, I'm getting my bearings.

Toto, we're not in Kansas or Missouri any more! We're in Abu Dhabi and it's exciting and different and amazing. Abu Dhabi is a city of 1 1/2 million people from all over the world. About 90% of the population are from other countries, so the streets and stores are rich with a diversity I've seen nowhere else.

Thursday night, we went to a Lebanese restaurant and ate outside. Our table was next to a hedge, and on the other side of the hedge two hungry, big-eyed cats waited in the huge flower pots, hoping for a handout. Tray after tray of meats and vegetables and pita bread, along with bowls of humus, arrived at our table. I slipped scraps of everything to the kitties, who mewed their thanks. A fun introduction to the city and its growing population of stray cats.

Yesterday morning we had breakfast at Jones, an Australian restaurant/grocery and then went to the Saadinyed center to see an art exhibit of Mid-Eastern artists. Nice facility, interesting art in many media--most of it sobering. Plans are in the works for the Louvre and the Guggenheim to join the complex with their own buildings. Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim addition. Then we went to the Marina Mall to grocery shop and I people-watched while Gerry and Peter did the honors. This mall features an ice-skating rink and a full rainfall over a certain area of the main mall floor. We lingered over coffee hoping to see the rain phenomenon, but it failed to appear.

That night we had dinner at the Presidential Palace Hotel. Luxury, opulence, excellent food. More about that tomorrow. My brain is full!

February 13, 2010

Off the Beaten Track

This morning I had coffee with a friend who'd just gotten back from a cruise. He mentioned that when their ship docked, passengers were advised to stay on the main street of the city. They were warned that stepping off onto a side street might be dangerous and they couldn't be responsible for what might happen. The main street was lined with upscale stores similar, or in some cases identical, to the stores US passengers had left back home.

My friend ignored the advice and turned onto a side street where he saw the reality of life in this third world country. He could look into doorways and see families at work, children at play...life going on among the poor of the city. What he saw was real and at the same time so far removed from life on the main street that the two paths seemed to be in different countries.

It is curious to me why one would take the time and trouble--and spend the money--to travel to another country and stay on the "safe" main street. I think main streets are much the same, no matter where one finds them. It's the side streets that offer a glimpse into the culture of another country. Side streets offer authentic restaurants and the richness of everyday life expressed in the native language and customs of a country.

It seems to me that in life, as in travel, the greatest rewards come from stepping off the main strip to see what's waiting down a side street. The determination to stay "safe" can lead to missed opportunities to experience other people and their culture.

February 10, 2010


We leave on a month-long trip overseas in a week, and we've taken to compulsive viewing of any electronic weather report we can find. We're both puzzled at this behavior. Normally we take the weather as it comes, but this winter has been tricky. Three weeks in December, wintry storms paralyzed our area just in time for Christmas, then New Year's, then Twelfth Night. My brother who lives in the DC area was scheduled to visit Kansas City this week but couldn't get out of DC because of multiple feet of snow. He planned to reschedule for next week, but the area is currently being hammered with another foot or so.

We're scheduled to leave JFK next Wednesday night. Will New York be snowed in? Mayor Blomberg has apparently just warned off anyone thinking of driving into the city. Will sun and warm breezes melt things sufficiently for us to take off for Abu Dhabi? Who knows? Will watching the weather channel help? Absolutely not. Will we discontinue our slavish watching of said channel? Again, absolutely not. Will said watching change anything? Again and once again, absolutely not.