Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Here’s mine for 2009...and I have to say - it wasn't easy just picking 10 highlights. It's been an interesting year. Started with a bit of a bump and then turned into nothing short of awesome. I'm already very excited for 2010...
9. Ramadan. I actually got to work slightly shorter hours this year which meant much more time for socializing, and the gym. And Ramadan does of course, mean Iftars…
8. Chi. It has to be the world’s cheesiest club, but I’ve had more hilarious nights out here than I care to admit. Having the lovely Harris just a hop skip and a jump away in Oman has meant many many lost weekends in there. Thank god my mum isn’t on Facebook to see the photographic evidence.
7. Sri Lanka. One of the most gorgeous places in the world. Private villa on the beach, with chef, yoga teacher and houseboys attending to my every whim. I don’t need complete luxury like this, honestly, I’m actually very easily pleased…..
6. Saturday Sundowners. It’s a tradition as old as time itself…well if you live in a sundrenched country I guess. Before gearing up for a hard week at work there’s nothing like sinking your toes into the sand/propping up a bar watching the sun set, in a sun dress and shades.
5. Beach Club. A Friday ritual. We spend a great deal of time comparing notes on which is our favourite, but really, there’s not much in it. Luxurious sun-loungers, delicious food, wine on tap, oh, and sun, sea and blue skies. Throw in great company and a stack of celebrity magazines, and you have the perfect recipe for lazy day off. However hard the week has been, and they can be tough, it’s hard to say stressed when floating in the sea looking back at the insane and beautiful skyline of Dubai.
4. Beirut. If the Sun had written a headline to describe that trip, it would have to be: Busty Blonde Brit Babes Cause Bedlam. A hilarious riotous adventure from start to finish. If I’m having a bad day a sneaky peep at the photos cheers me right up. And normally results in loud guffawing.
3. Family – in Dubai and the UK…The Dubai Family. It’s been said before, but really, I’m blessed to have found some really wonderful friends here…you all know who you are….The UK Family. Laydeeeees! And some gents….You’re out of sight but never out of mind. Your emails, texts and phone calls make me laugh, cry and miss you even more. You’re always welcome here for visits…
2. Safari. The most amazing trip, ever. Animals, scenery, people, company. Bliss.
1. Christmas. Spending time with the people that you love, in a place that you love…what’s not to love?!
Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
So what to choose? My dad loves horses, and by happy coincidence, so do the Arabs. With a bit of investigative research I discovered that you can go ‘behind-the-scenes’ at the Dubai Polo Club, by arranging a tour of the stables. The polo club is another one of those places that I just haven’t managed to get round to visiting, so it ticked all the boxes. Boom!
And what a gorgeous place and experience it was. It’s about a twenty minute drive from my apartment, so we set off at stupid o’clock in a state of high excitement. (Note: at this stage by dad still had no idea where he was going as we had managed to keep it a surprise.) And surprised he was when we arrived!
The drill is basically this: arrive at beautiful club house, be greeted by wonderfully charming staff, order your breakfast, to be scoffed on the terrace later, and then get taken round the stables by one of the riding instructors. I apologise for forgetting her name. I’m terrible with names! Let’s call her Polo Lady…..
It’s very laid back and we spent a pleasant hour chatting away to Polo Lady about the game, the ponies, how they go abut living their lives…..I’ll also admit to sneaking in a few questions about Argentinian polo players…hmmm.
Of course we got to stroke a few noses along the way which I was delighted about. The polo ponies are, as you would imagine, stunning creatures, as were the other horses stabled there. They live a pretty good life – hot showers and shampoos, daily exercise and grooming. One was on a homeopathic diet (only in Dubai, surely?!) and many owners bring their own fragrance shower gels for them Some polo pony facts:
They don’t have manes. Well, they do, but they’re closely cropped so as not to get tangled in the polo sticks (must check the proper lingo.)
Only lady ponies are used in the game. They’re much more focused than the men. Men tend to get easily distracted, and if they get a whiff of a lady pony, they’re off. Ah, how nature is consistent across the animal and human kingdom!
They are very smart, and learn that when they hear the whoosh of the polo stick and the sound of it hitting the ball, they have to yank their head up pretty darned quick to avoid getting hit on the head. That said, they can and do sustain a lot of injuries, bless them.
They cost up to $20, 000 each.
There are 4 ponies in a team and as they are changed frequently throughout the game, you need to have up to 8 ponies if you're going to play.It costs $1, 000 to stable a pony each month
Bastakiya is a lovely area and one of the few places where you can see old-style houses and imagine Dubai ‘as it used to be.’ They were going to pull all the buildings down until a certain Prince Charles paid Dubai a visit and commented on how marvelous the area looked. Cue huge renovation project – and the end result, if a little too polished, is really lovely. It’s a small area and an intriguing maze of shady passages. I recommend booking a tour through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding – without a guide to take you round you really haven’t got much of a clue what you’re looking at.
After that we had a good rummage round the textile souk. As ever with places like this you do get a bit harangued by shop-keepers, but they’re generally pretty nice and not too intimidating. I have a favourite shop (at the very end on the right-hand side, if you’re interested!), where the staff are pleasant and they don’t mither you too much. Oh, and it’s huge. My dad is now rocking out a variety of Arab scarves and I have a couple of new pashminas to fight off the air con.
Do you have hordes of visitors invading your house/eating all your food, and demanding to be entertained each day and night? Well worry no more, for I am a Dubai tour guide extraordinaire!
Yes, after a week of entertaining my family, I think I have a few interesting jaunts which I could recommend….I’ll post them as and when I’m awake enough to review them – took the family to the airport this morning at stupid o’clock and am still in a bit of a haze. Could also be down to the fact that I’ve averaged at least 5,000 calories each day for the last two weeks and my body is battling to digest them. Nice. January is going to be harsh....
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
This morning I had a neb at Chloe, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Temperley and Missoni. And for some reason, which I’m sure will become clear next time I walk past, they’ve installed a grand piano outside Ralph Lauren, hence the aforementioned piano tuner.
I was instantly transported back to being 11 years old and piano lessons. The thing with the piano is that it requires a lot of practice. I could blame my poor skills on the fact that we didn’t have a piano, but if I’m honest, the lack of practice is what did for me. I did remember that the one tune which I can belt out is: Noel. And it’s Christmas! Any venue with a piano – watch out – I may not be able to control myself!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
As usual the UK press just loves to build them up, and knock 'em down...and nowhere is this more true than where Dubai is concerned.
One of the worst articles I read was this piece in The Sun. Clearly the idiot bus had pulled up alongside the journalist in question when he was looking for comments.
Quotes like this from a munter called Paul : "It's a fantastic place to be a single bloke. Tuesdays is ladies night in the bars and its wall-to-wall women. Loads of air hostesses are based here" should really alert you to the fact that this might not be your average decent person. Clearly a munter - and they're everywhere, not just here. Scroll down to check out Paul's photo and I'd be surprised if he ever gets lucky on a Tuesday....
Another article compared hotel prices in Dubai to those in Doncaster - apparently it's cheaper to stay here than in that gorgeous (!) UK city. What a load of tosh. The hotels they used as a comparison are budget and nowhere that you'd be in a hurry to stay. And I'm not being funny, and at the risk of offending the people of Doncaster - I know where I'd rather holiday....
Anyway, my observation this morning is that buildings, whilst looking pretty good in Dubai, have go to be questionable on the quality front. Yes, I appreciate that it doesn't rain often here, but still, is that an excuse for the gallons of water that were pouring through the ceiling of the car park this morning? Or the 10 (yes, 10) large buckets placed strategically in the souk near my apartment, all with water pouring into them....
Despite all this rain, I still walked to work this morning (cue gasps of horror from colleagues.) It may be raining but it's still in the 20's, so it's a more pleasant stroll than my Manchester days. Days when you wouldn't dare leave the house in the rain without gloves on as your hands would freeze to ice whilst clutching the brolly handle.
I'm hoping that this is going to stop before Christmas Day - it has two weeks to pull itself together. Fingers crossed!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I can’t stand Jim Carrey which was almost enough to put me off but thankfully by some weird computer CGI wizardry, you can’t really tell that it’s him. Likewise with Bob Hoskins and Gary Oldman, who also star in the film.
I’m sure that everyone knows the CC story, so I won’t bore you with that – but I will bore you with how amazing the 3D effects are. There’s so many opportunities to showcase it, flying over and through the streets of Victorian London (in the snow!), horse-drawn carriage chases, and the obligatory ghost scenes.
One small thing – if you’re taking kids with you, it’s, ahem, quite scary. A little girl in front of us had to be taken out in floods of tears when the first ghost appeared, and to be honest, it did cross my mind to join her. But it’s also hilarious in equal measure. And brilliant. Go see it. We sang Christmas carols all the way to the nearest bar afterwards…..
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Anderson our guide had lived in the Mara his whole life and worked as a guide for years and years – and he was still genuinely thrilled each time we saw an animal. His exclamations of ‘oh my god’ when we saw a leopard or rhino, and his excited giggles when cheetah played in front of the car were really infectious.
But obviously, there’s the meat-eaters. And there’s quite a lot of them. And by Day 3 it stood to reason that we were going to see something getting eaten.
The lions were the first predators we saw in action, and they make quite a team. They’re amazingly impressive up close, and it’s easy to forget that they’re basically enormous killing machines. We watched a pride chase a wart-hog into a hole and then spend the next hour digging it out. Patience and tenacity in spades.
Later we discovered that one of the resident leopards (and there was only three in the near vicinity) had been killed by a hyena. We went to see the evidence- not pleasant. Anderson was visibly moved and it was a very sobering moment.
Another occasion saw us literally stumble over a cheetah who had just eaten – evident by it’s huge stomach and bloody mouth. It was obviously slipping into a food coma and was far too sated to do anything other than collapse on its back into a heap, which allowed us the most amazing close-up view of its tummy. Crying out to be tickled. Joke.
Later we saw a group of nine lions stalk another wart-hog. Watching them emerge slowly slowly from the bushes and stalk it through the long grass was honestly a ‘heart in the mouth’ moment. The warthog escaped unscathed in the end, by which time my nerves were shot to pieces.
On our last day we got a flat tyre, right in the middle of the bush. On one side of us were elephants, the other side giraffe, and behind us a huge group of antelope. The big sort. Didn’t help my nerves that only the day before we’d seen lions in that very spot. Thankfully Anderson proved to be a dab hand at changing tyres and we were only out of the car for about ten minutes.
Thankfully all this drama and suspense we came across some elephants wallowing in a muddy hole. It was truly hilarious and a typical example of the range of emotions that you experience on safari. Amazing.
Q: What does /y/z animal eat?
A: Dependent on animal, of course.
Q: Does x/y/z animal sleep at night?
A: As above. Giraffes sleep lying down but with their necks straight up in the air. Who knew?
Q: Where does x/y/z animal sleep at night?
A: Completely depends. Leopards stay up in the trees.
Q: Why don’t leopards fall out of the trees?
A: They balance themselves cleverly.
Q: What’s your favourite animal?
A: Cheetah, because they’re very friendly.
Q: Why aren’t animals green for camouflage?
A: Anderson quite rightly ignored this question.
Q: Can you do any animal impressions?
A: Although at first Anderson was reluctant to do any impressions he did later crack out a great cheetah noise. (A high pitched squeak and not at all what we were expecting!)
Q: What lives in that hole?
A: A hyena. Or a warthog. I wasn’t going to stick my head into it to find out.
Q: If the car broke down, would the animals eat us.
A: (After much laughter) No. This was proved to be correct when the car did in fact, break down.
Q: What are your views on zoos?
A: Anderson has never visited a zoo but isn’t keen on how they sound. At all.
Q: Where does the petrol for the 4x4’s come from?
A: A tanker makes a 4 day trip from Nairobi once a month and fills a tank on-site.
Q: Why do giraffes have blue tongues?
A: The only question that stumped Anderson. I happen to know the answer after a trip to Desert Islands and their resident giraffe group. Think you know the answer? Let me know and I’ll tell you if you’re right!
We soon realized what the blankets in the car were for (Queen Mother chic) but we didn’t need them for long. And to be honest, the excitement of seeing a leopard (Big 5: Done) meant that any thoughts about temperature went out of the window.
After rocking around the Mara for almost three hours Anderson drove us to a perfect spot on the banks of the river: breakfast time. I’m not sure what I was imagining but it wasn’t a five course gourmet feast, with hot coffee. Amazing. More animal bothering and then back to the camp for lunch. I’m sure we did more each day than just eat and drink wine!
Oh yes, we also went to the spa. Yes, on top of all the other luxurious touches, there was a spa in camp. The memory of lying in the open air next to the river being massaged, lifting up my head and realizing we were being watched by a baboon and a hippo, will stay with me for quite some time!
That evening took a magical turn. Up until that point there’d only been a few people in the camp with us, but some new arrivals meant our numbers had risen to nine. Nothing like feeling you’re in your own private hide-away. Because of this the camp decided to throw us a surprise party…..in the middle of the bush, under the moonlight. They tricked us into going with promises of moonlight animal watching, and as we did actually stop to watch hippos grazing, we all fell for it. It was pretty special to sit under the stars and the full moon with a cold glass of wine whilst (yet another) amazing meal was prepared for us.
We did have a brief altercation with the Texan contingent after a particularly stupid comment by them about the Middle East. Needless to say Auntie Andrea put them in their place, which meant that they gave us a wide berth for the rest of their stay..bothered?!
Anyway all of that was forgotten after a few hours of wine and food. And the highlight….the entire camp arrived, with guitars, singing their own Olonana Camp song. In what can only be described as a conga. It might sound cack, but it was hilarious. Obviously the English girls were straight up out of their seats and joining in (no coincidence that we were propositioned about ten times by the end of the trip. We did consider how we’d cope with the life in the local village but decided on balance, we couldn’t hack it). Some enchanted evening.
The first night I felt like I woke up every hour on the hour – at one point because A woke up and thought there was someone in the tent (not likely as we had a Masai tribesman outside it all night).
Otherwise it was the strange sounds and noises that kept waking me. At any given point you could hear (in no particular order): hippos grunting (very loud), the river running and gurgling, cow bells, crickets, birds and Egyptian geese. It was mayhem out there! My first night back in my Dubai bed actually felt very quiet by comparison.
The Big 5 – lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino and elephant. Not in the Big 5 but still amazing: giraffe, zebra, serval, baboon, hippo, water buffalo, vulture, eagle, warthog (amazing!), hyena, wildebeest, mongoose, antelope, crocodile, bat, lizard, jackal. They kept us very busy!
Keep your mouth closed most of the time, and especially when you’re driving across the Mara in your 4x4. Insects were never really a problem but there were a fair few winged creatures bouncing off my head as we went along. At one point the girl sat behind me announced: Kelly, I’m about to hit you on the head, but it’s because there’s a giant bug on it. Hurl! I would have hated for that to go anywhere near my mouth…
It’s not THAT cold…and it’s not THAT hot. I’d heard horror stories about how utterly freezing it becomes at night – what a load of rubbish! Maybe it’s because I’m used to harsh Northern England winters, but 15 degrees at night is not cold to me. Duncan our butler very kindly popped a hot water bottle in our beds each night, but I never needed it.
Safari dust is like glue. I’m used to living in the desert with a fine covering of sand over my balcony/inside my flat etc etc, but this stuff is different. After a day animal watching I’d use a face wipe, wash my face, have a shower, and STILL the towel would be black with dust at the end. What’s in it?!
Consider taking a sports bra with you. No, I’m not joking. I can’t describe the state of the roads – well they’re not roads, just tracks through the Mara. The first day I felt like I needed spine surgery – you do get used to it by the end of your trip. Back to my original trip – if you’re, ahem, blessed in the chest department, you could find this endless bouncing around quite painful…..
Make sure you take binoculars. You spend a huge part of your time scanning the horizon for..well..anything. Without them you'll just be looking at a load of grass for days.....
4.5 hours later we arrived at Nairobi airport to be met by our first lovely guide, Joseph. He was at pains to take us through every item on our itinerary- we were in a frenzy of excitement and trying to crack open bottles of wine in the back of the car (you can take the girl out of Manchester..).
We’d opted to stay just outside of the city in a gorgeous place called the House of Waine. It’s a private house that has been converted into a guest house. It’s small boutique style place with themed rooms and gorgeous gardens. There wasn’t much to do apart from drink wine, chill in the gardens, and eat. Bliss.
Next morning and the moment I’d been dreading…..the Safari Link plane down to the Masai Mara. I’m not scared of flying, in fact I love travelling and never think twice about getting on a plane. Big planes, that is. Small planes, I don’t get along with. It’s something I just can’t control, they terrify me.
This plane was a 13 seater - If I’d have known at this stage how much smaller the plane on the return route would be….well, that’s a story for later. Our pilot introduced himself – Jackson – it didn’t help that he looked about 12, and was there really any need for him to keep insulting the map as we went along?? It wasn’t really instilling me with confidence. I won’t go into the torrid detail, but there were tears… I could barely get off the plane at the end, but soon perked up when we were met by our wonderful guide for the next five days, Anderson.
We’d barely been in the 4x4 for five minutes when we started making our first sightings, by the time we arrived at Olonana Camp we were in a state of near-hysteria. The head of staff, Maurice (they all have such English names!) and introduced us to Daniel, our personal waiter, Duncan, our butler, and a myriad of other people on hand to look after us. Spoilt isn’t even the word.
After an amazing lunch we headed out on our first afternoon game drive. We saw everything, apart from a leopard (which we saw the next morning). Truly amazing. What Anderson doesn’t know about animals really isn’t worth knowing. We rounded off the evening with wine, dinner, and cards by the fire. Bliss.
Years of watching David Attenborough programmes, with their scenes of chases and kills, all set to dramatic music, made me expect a place of high drama. There were definitely moments of tension and drama (more on that later!) but overall serenity was the name of the game. Giraffe grazed next to zebra, rhino, antelope and baboons, whilst a leopard watched from a tree above. It was a lesson in co-existing which we could all learn a lot from. More safari updates very soon….