Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Help I'm trapped in England and can't get out! Yesterday my passport was sent to the embassy for a face lift - OK it's getting additional pages added. With all the travelling I've done this past year I was down to 2 blank pages and those were going to quickly disappear. My coworkers are having a fun time calling me a prisoner. It's strange knowing that I can't go anywhere, not that I have anywhere to go at the moment. The site says it can take up to 5 working days but I'm giving myself 2 weeks, if any crises arise they'll just have to wait.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Parting Thoughts

Having had a couple of days to recover from jet lag I figured I would take this opportunity to discuss some interesting findings and thoughts I had while in Dubai. As this was my first visit to a Muslim country I wasn't quite sure what to expect, even though the population is 75% expats there were certain things that stood out.

Purchasing of Alcohol

Alcohol can only be purchased in hotel restaurants all other restaurants are not allowed to sell alcohol. There are liquor stores which are only accessible if you are in possession of an "alcoholic identity license." Only non-Muslims can apply for the ID and there are limits to the amount of alcohol that can be bought.


Muslim countries do not recognize the existence of Israel to the point where maps just leave that space blank. Some of my co-workers will not even mention the name they just say "that other country."


There is a significant amount of censoring in Dubai. Reading an interview with Elton John certain words were replaced by asterisks, even the word crap was censored out. Kissing scenes from television shows were edited out and there are restrictions to what you can access on the Internet. I was a little surprised when I tried to access www.meetup.com to RSVP to the Superbowl party being planned for Sunday and was presented with the following message: "We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political, and moral values of the United Arab Emirates."

Being presented with this message I got to wondering why this site was blocked and what other sites are blocked. The only thing I can come up with is that they consider meetup to be a dating site. Sites that were blocked included match.com, eurobet.com, and the games section on msn. Sites that were allowed included Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. I would think there are videos on YouTube that are against the values of the UAE, but maybe they have found a way just to block the offending videos and let the others through.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Desert Safari

Thursday I was lucky enough to have a free day which enabled me to sign up for a desert safari. A desert safari entails riding a 4X4 over sand dunes in a desert and it all ends at a base camp where you can go camel riding, ride a quad bike over the dunes, go sand boarding, and have an Arabian BBQ.

As you’re riding over the dunes and the jeeps start sliding sideways down the dunes you realize it wouldn’t take much for one of the jeeps to roll over. That is all part of the excitement, however in the back of your mind you think well what are the chances of a jeep rolling over, these drivers do this all the time. As you can see from the photo, one of the jeeps in our caravan did actually roll over. It was a very surreal experience. As you go over the dunes the jeeps all stop and wait for everybody to catch up and watch the other jeeps come over. We had stopped and I looked in front of the jeep and there was a bumper of a car. I started to say something about the remains of a vehicle that didn’t make it and all of a sudden I heard the driver gasp. Looking to the left we see that one of the jeeps had rolled onto its side. All the drivers jumped out of their jeeps and ran over to investigate and help out, slowly all the men in the group headed over to try and roll the jeep back over. Luckily everybody in the jeep was safe and the first thing was to get them all out safely. Once they were all out the group was able to get the jeep righted, at this time you could see that the front wheel had come off the rim and the hypothesis is that this is what caused the jeep to roll.

While the crew then worked to change the flat I took advantage of this opportunity to grab some pictures of the locals that had appeared on their quad bikes. I walked up to the top of one of the dunes that the bikers were riding over. One of the guys stopped to talk for a little while; he had been giving some members of the groups rides on this bike and chatting with everybody. He offered to take a picture of me on the bike so I hopped on. When he asked me if I wanted a ride at first I said no, but then he said he would just take me to the bottom of the dune and then I could get off. I figured why not, but when we got to the bottom he looked at me and asked if I wanted to continue, the adrenaline was flowing so I said sure. A quick spin around the dunes and he dropped me back with the group and gave somebody else a spin. The guys that were in the jeep with me came up and said how surprised they were that I had gotten on the bike. It was definitely a thrilling experience.

After the tire on the jeep was fixed, we got back in and continued to base camp. I was a little leery after seeing the accident but we made it safely back with no further incidents. As I was in an adventurous mood after riding the quad bikes when my new friends asked if I wanted to join them for a smoke I agreed. I only took 2 little puffs, but I guess I can no longer say I’ve never smoked.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today marks my 1 year anniversary of being an expat. It's amazing how quickly a year goes, then again I have been rather busy this year. I have visited:
  • 24 different cities (some more than once)
  • 9 new countries
  • 2 new continents (Africa & Asia only 2 more to go now - who's up for a vacation to Antarctica).
In the spirit of the awards season I decided to present awards to some of the more memorable events of the year. As with any year there were high points and low points , I am only focusing on the positive so there are no razzie awards only the best of the best were eligible. So now with no further ado I present the winners:

Most Memorable Experience: Being chased by an elephant
Favorite City: Rome
Best Sporting Event: Wimbledon
Favorite New Phrase/Word: POETS Friday
Best Meal: Tang at Le Meridian Dubai

Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's All About the Food

Just got back from dinner at Tang at the hotel and it is possibly one of the best meals I've had in a long time. The description they give at the restaurant is focusing on molecular flavors. I found that much more intriguing than Italian and since this may be the last night I am eating alone here I figured I would give it a try. It's rare that when I'm eating alone I will spend more than an hour in a restaurant but I was there for 2 - that tell's you something right there about the place.

The menu offers two prices one for sharing plates and one for tasting plates. The server recommended 3 plates if sharing and 6 if tasting. I knew I wasn't going to be sharing and 6 sounded like a lot so I opted for 3 tasting plates and I'm glad I did. For wine I went with a Chilean Chardonnay, it was a very good compliment to all of the courses I ordered.
To start off with they bring an amuse buche which is fairly standard at finer dining places. My first course is a raw blue fine tuna marinated in a lime dressing on top of a sesame cracker - very tasty. While I was still eating this I am brought a treat from the bar for after the course. A little spoon of some soybean creation unfortunately at this time I don't remember everything that was in it. Very sweet and a nice ending to my first course. The second course was scallop, tagliatelle and white truffle oil, by far my favorite of the evening. After this a palate cleanser sorbet was brought out of baileys and fruit. It did a very good job of cleaning my palate.
For my final dish I went with a duck and foie gras dish. Unfortunately this was my least favorite dish of the evening. While duck and foie gras are usually on the top of my list the preparation just wasn't doing it for me. I say final dish but I did get talked into a dessert a black forest concotion that was prepared with liquid nitrogen instead of baked. Anything prepared with liquid nitrogen has to be tried at least once. While waiting for dessert to come out I was presented with a pre-dessert desert. Now this was a new one for me. I'm used to all of the other in-between courses but I had never heard of this one before. Just a quick little bite of something sweet to whet the appetite. Shortly after this was taken away I was told that my main desert would be out soon, the first attempt didn't work. I guess liquid nitrogen can be finicky at times. The wait was well worth it. A dome of chocolate that when broken into lets out a rush of cold air is not to be missed.

After dessert was taken away I was expecting the bill instead I was presented with 3 homemade marshmellow bites. Not too surpised by this as I have seen truffles or other sweets presented with the bill at other restaurants. What surprised me however was after this they brought out another plate of sweets to be eaten in order from right to left as the ones on the right were sweeter and the final one was a peppermint palate cleanser. When given the descriptions of the items I was told that the chocolate one should just be placed in the mouth and let it dissolve do not chew or bite it, intriguing. I was anxious to try it but I went in the proper order. Once I finally got to the chocolate I popped it in my mouth and at first thought "yeah ok the chocolate is good." But then the chocolate started to melt and I only have 2 words for you "Pop Rocks."
For those of you who didn't have the pleasure of experiencing pop rocks as a child, or an adult for that matter, as the chocolate started to melt there was cryastallized sugar inside which exploded as it melted. An absolutely amazing sensation and one I haven't experienced since, well the last time I had pop rocks.

I'm not sure if this was the most expensive meal I've eaten alone. I can't recall how much my dinner at Nobu was but it's close and I would have to say it is certainly better. As is typically the case though the wine accounted for half the cost of the bill and I only had 2 glasses. If I only had 1 glass it definitely would have been cheaper. On a final note I can only say with 4 desserts I'm glad I went to the gym today before going to dinner.

Dealings in Dubai

The flight to Dubai was the first time I've travelled since Heathrow eased the baggage restrictions. What I didn't realize was they've also eased other restrictions. Previously your laptop had to be taken out of the bag and scanned separately, now the only thing that needs to be scanned separately is liquids. I imagine during the trials they ran last summer they realized people can get through the security lines quicker if they don't have to unpack and pack all their belongings after going through security so having 2 bags wasn't slowing down the process the extra work was.

Once through security I realized I had forgotten to go find out what type of power outlets are used in UAE. A quick stop to the Dixon's shop at the airport revealed that UAE uses the same power outlets as the UK no need for an adaptor.

After a quick 6 hour flight the plane lands in Dubai. What immediately struck me upon leaving the airport is the vast amount of new construction that is taking place in Dubai. Everywhere you look there are new skyscrapers going up, new roads being built, new hotels breaking ground. The most famous one of course is The Burj at 158 stories it is the world's largest skyscraper and makes all of the other buildings going up around it look like dwarves.

I've gotten used to seeing American stores when I travel throughout Europe but I have to say I was rather surprised to see a large number of American restaurants on the drive to the hotel including: Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Applebee's, Subway, and Hard Rock Cafe.

Of course coming in on the red-eye the hotel room was not yet ready so I freshened up and went out and hit the town. I never expected a trip to the Gold and Diamond Park to provide excitement and almost get me arrested (maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit here). The park wasn't all that exciting just like the diamond district in any other city - shop after shop of people selling the same stuff trying to give you the best price. While I was waiting for the bus to pick me up and return me to the hotel I decided to wander around and take some pictures - you know me. The license plates on the cars struck me as being photographic so I took a picture of one.

All of a sudden a security guard was asking me what I was doing and if I had permission from the owner to take a picture of the car. I told him I was just taking it for inclusion in my album and mostly just wanted the word Dubai written in English and Arabic. When I asked him if I needed to delete the picture he went on to say I'm not allowed to take pictures at the mall for security purposes as I may be casing the joint (OK he didn't use those words I'm paraphrasing). He didn't seem to want to answer whether or not I need to delete the photo he just kept going on and on. So I told him I was deleting the picture. This still didn't stop the guard and by this time another guy had joined the conversation. When I told them for the third time that I wasn't aware and had deleted the photo they then gave me permission to take the photo. At this point I said never mind and walked away, a few seconds later one of the guys came over to where I was standing and starting discussing this again talking about all sorts of police agencies in Dubai which meant nothing to me. I am not quite sure why they couldn't drop the issue after I apologized and deleted the photo. I did manage to take another photo later in the day when nobody was looking. (I've erased the license plate number to protect the car owners identity as I did not have permission to take this photo.)

After this excitement I headed into town to check out the spice souk (market). While walking through the market I couldn't help but feel like I was a stranger in a strange land. I really felt out of place walking through the streets, I felt very self conscious when I was taking photos which is something that has never happened to me before. This was most likely a result of the earlier incident and didn't want a repeat occurrence.

The aromas wafting through the air was stimulating walking down the streets you could smell cinnamon, nutmeg, cardmom it was almost sensory overload. Visually the souk was not what I was expecting, I imagined it was going to be an open-air market or stallslike Haymarket or Camden Markets but it was just a bunch of storefronts some of which sold spices but some sold shoes, fabrics, all sorts of different things. Some of the storefronts are wholesale trading companies while others are retail. At one of the retail outfits I bought some cashews and some saffron. I have to say the cashews may be the best I've ever had.

The trading companies may use these boats at the river to ship and receive goods. Never in my life have I seen anything like it. Unfortunately the pictures don't do it justice. The boxes and ships go on for at least a mile. Trucks drive up load their goods and then drive off. From what I could see there was nobody making sure items didn't just go walking off but I'm sure there is a system of some sort. Everything from electronics to food to clothing to appliances were just sitting at the docks.

Dinner was to be eaten at the hotel, I just didn't have the energy after getting next to no sleep on the plane to go anywhere. It was disappointing reading through the restaurant options to see that there were no arabic options. The hotel is really more of a vacation destination than a business hotel resultining in cuisines that would appeal to tourists French, Sushi, and of course Italian. Asking at the front desk which of the restaurants they would recommend as there is always one that's better than the others I was pleased when they said the main dining room has an Arabic buffet on Saturday nights along with traditional music, belly dancing and henna painting. Of course I had to try everything on the buffet including tangines, stews, kebabs, and cold mezes, needless to say I overate but it was worth it everything was fabulous. Unfortuntately I wasn't able to stick around for the belly dancing by the time my meal was completed it was 8:30 and I was ready for bed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Found Money

I had an exciting morning sorting out the coins in my wallet. As is usually the case I had multiple currencies in there and figured it was time to take them out and leave only the local currency as foreign currency isn't normally accepted. However last weekend at the farmers market I did pay with a mix of Euros and Pounds, the vendor said it was the first time he ever had vegetables paid for in 2 currencies. It ended up working out for both of us - I had a massive amount of coins and he was running low. I had a total of 6 Pounds in coin but the total was 7.50 - he said he would take the 2 Euro coin as he was heading to Cyprus on Monday and could use it there.

I was expecting to have only Pounds, Euros, and US currency so imagine my surprise when I found a coin that did not fit into those currencies. Nestled in with all the other currencies was a 20 Groszy coin. I haven't made it to Poland yet so this means I got this as change either here in the UK or in France. Not sure what it was change for and I most likely lost money on the transaction but I don't care as it's cool.

Currency exchange rates
.20 groszy = .04 GBP
.20 groszy = .05 EUR

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When Does it Stop

I had an interesting question posed to me last night when I was out with a group of American expats. When do things stop being different? In the beginning it seemed that there was something new around every corner now some of the excitement has worn off and it's business as usual. That's not to say that I'm still surprised by certain things but it happens on much less frequent basis.

In a conversation with my sister recently she summed it up rather well - and I'm paraphrasing here so forgive me if I get it wrong. "When you first moved it was exciting and adventurous but now you just live far away." I think no matter where you live after a while you stop exploring and being adventurous and you start to take things for granted. When I made my first trip back to Boston in July I remember seeing the city in a different way. I was doing things I hadn't previously done or hadn't done in a long time like walking through Beacon Hill, riding the swan boats in the Common and checking out the shops in the south end. Why was I not taking advantage of some of these things while I lived in Boston? At what point does our perspective on where we live change ?

I've been to Paris 4 times and each time I've been to or driven past the Eiffel Tower and every time it amazes me . If I lived in Paris how long would it be before I stopped noticing it?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Oh The Places You'll Go

It's that time again. A new year has begun and so have my travels for work. The blog has been updated with a new list to track the wonderfully exciting places I go.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Something in the Air

Typically I'm used to airlines poor customer service so it came as no surprise when I checked my BA account after my trip home for Christmas and realize they had not awarded me any points or miles for my flight. This was slightly shocking and upsetting especially since the flight to Boston gave me enough points for Silver status - yeah! While I was home I called BA's US customer service number only to be told that they couldn't help me as they can only help US customers and I'm a UK customer. Given the time difference the UK customer support had closed so I had to wait another day.

Once I was able to get through the UK customer support the next day, they immediately saw what the problem with. I had upgraded my return flight to club, as a result this "inadvertently" wiped out the points and miles I should have earned on both legs of the flight. They can over-ride the system to grant me the points but that takes 7-10 day working days. I love this little flaw in their system that they wipe out all points forcing you to call and ask for the points to be credited again. If you're not vigilant about checking you could be missing out significant points and miles.

I called again this week to go through the process all over again for the return flight as that was missing and the rep couldn't fix the account before I took the flight, even though she knew the system wouldn't give me the credit. While I was on the phone I mentioned that I was flying again this week and since the system had not yet credited the points and miles I don't show up as silver this means on my flights this week I won't get access to the lounge. I wasn't actually expecting much but they said they would fax me a letter that I could use for 28 days. Imagine my surprise when I got to work on Friday and they had faxed me a letter.

In other flight news. It was revealed yesterday that some airports in London will be lifting the 1 hand bag restriction on Monday. Of course I fly out on Sunday so that doesn't help me much this week but in the future it will certainly be helpful when flying out of Heathrow. Restrictions will remain at Gatwick but hopefully within the year they will be lifted there as well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

I've never been big into making New Year's resolutions as I don't tend to keep them. Instead I will be providing a list of new laws and events:
  • Increases in rail fares which have many people up in arms and are thinking of protesting. Fares on some trains are going up by over 9%. While on the other hand fares on the tubes and buses are remaining frozen due to "the economic success" of last year.
  • Two new countries in the European Union are now using the Euro: Malta and Cyprus.
  • A smoking ban was imposed in France. As with other states and countries where this has occurred owners are convinced that cafes, bars and restaurants will now be empty. The law which was to go into effect on January 1st was given a reprieve so people could enjoy New Year's Day.
  • Economists feel that the housing market in London will decline this year with some homes losing on average 20K in value.