Monday, December 31, 2007
After boarding had finished and we began securing the cabin, I could not help but break into a smile of amusement when I looked down at an exit row to find four elderly ladies seated in front of their towering cascade of baggage, flashing me a line of beaming toothless smiles above their bags and blissfully unaware, reminding me that the majority of these passengers had most likely never set foot on a plane before this pilgrimage to Mecca.
Landing into Jeddah there was no mistaking the feeling of anticipation coming from the cabin. Everyone was champing at the bit to get to the next stage of their journey and not a moment too soon. Buses crowded the tarmac, flooding the evening with their flashing amber lights waiting for our passengers in their seamless white robes to make their way down the stairs, which proved to be no mean feat. Families and friends who had been seated separately were forming dozens of 'meet points' around the base of the stairs, and instructions from the crew (in English) to keep moving ahead went unnoticed until we sought help from a group of businessmen who had also been passengers, to act as our invaluable translators.
Assisting the older ladies down the stairs I started to think about how able bodied these people actually were, beyond their physical years. Unlike on our European flights where the list of wheelchair requests are usually as long as your arm, there was not a wheelchair in sight on this evening, contrary to the considerable age and ailments of our passengers. Aside from holding their hands and their (many) bags I began to wonder if in fact they needed any assistance at all judging from the speed at which they descended towards the buses. One lady in particular really struck me. Holding on to her slender arms, squiggled with veins and creases in her skin she could not wipe the smile from her face. Her eyes were sparkling like a person half her age and I could tell this was an expedition she had been waiting a very long time for. My colleague who was next to me, also helping an older lady down the stairs, looked over and commented at how happy everyone was while the lady I was with kept repeating something to me in her native tongue before bounding up the bus step into her seat like an excitable young girl. As I placed the bags down at her feet she cupped her hands on the sides of my face, grinning away and leaving me with some parting words which were unfortunately foreign to my Australian ears. Where were those translators when you needed them???!!
Eventually the flurry of activity drove away leaving us to prepare for round two, our return back to Dubai, which was as equally taxing, with the added challenge of storing their containers of holy water. Certainly never a dull day in this office!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I am sorry for neglecting you over the past three months, it's not you it's me. You see I had a little incident in London where a nasty person snatched my bag while I was enjoying a glass of wine with my sister and in it was my camera (among many other valuable items). When santa brings me a new camera for Christmas I promise to visit you more frequently and pay you more attention than ever before I promise! I hope you can understand and we can move beyond this silence in the new year.
Your owner, A. x
Saturday, September 29, 2007
After meeting them both in my hotel foyer we caught the bus to the centre of town where we followed our nose (and Ryan's astute sense of direction) through some narrow streets and up several unknown flights of alleyway stairs to a place neither of us had been to before but all agreed it was too cute and cosy to walk away from. We were welcomed with a very melodic greeting from the kitchen staff as we brushed through the hanging cotton drapes from the doorway, before walking through the intimate restaurant filled with ankle height tables and patrons drinking sake sitting delicately on their soft bright cushions. The three of us decided on seats up next to the kitchen bar so we could watch the action and dangle our bare feet in the dugout beneath us. Thankfully my comrades were able to order a round of drinks using sign language and a few Japanese phrases, as an English menu was going to be as available to us as a pork chop during Ramadan in a Muslim country.
We clinked our large glass mugs of red berry sour cocktails and soon began catching up on news from home and stories from their holiday to date, and how at home they felt in their beautiful little holiday apartment in the heart of Tokyo. Always one for keeping his finger well positioned on the proverbial pulse, Ryan bought me up to speed on cheap optical deals rife in Japan, the delights of gobble-on-the-go tuna sushi sandwiches and then some more informative stories on food and local delicacies. Our bowls of steaming Udon noodles and wooden chopsticks were gracefully place down before us and we made quick work of the tasty broth of goodness before handing the remains over to our male chaperone for polishing off, boys do come in very handy sometimes!!
After dinner we eventually found a little candle lit bar with a cosy old Hollywood ambiance. The walls were covered in framed black and white photographs, waiters wore crisp white shirts and thin black ties while wooden tables, chairs and hat stands filled the room. A few rounds of Cassis (Ryan and Fiona's holiday drink of choice) and I was converted. It tasted like tangy orange juice but contained some potent muscle relaxing alcohol - I will be forever indebted for this tasty introduction! Feeling very content and ready for some sleep the three of us headed back to the hotel for some hotel-issued kimono style bathrobe dress up photos and a good night's sleep.
As Fiona pointed out, sometimes when you watch Japanese animation its easy to get lost in the fictional characters and their abstract forms, but after seeing the underwater inhabitants at the aquarium we're now not so convinced most of those characters are pretend. Many of them resemble the crazy crustaceans we saw. It was such an impressive display of marine life ranging from teeny tiny florescent fish, naughty little otters (doing things not suitable for children's eyes), playful dolphins, big scary whale sharks and (the most mesmorising for me) the many different little tanks of translucent jelly fish.
Getting the last hole punched into our fun-pass ticket we boarded Osaka's towering ferris wheel for 20 minutes of glass cage viewing. It was a beautiful end to the day after such a wonderful 24 hours with such good friends, good sushi and sweet Cassis.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Celebrations this year centered around a very civilised bubbly brunch with a few close girlfriends inside a beautiful hotel that is built around a Venetian style man made canal - which is why this hotel is sometimes referred to as "little Italy"! As the afternoon began drawing to a close we were approached by two American men with the foulest teeth you have EVER seen! With their deep Southern accent they declared to our table that we "sure were purrdy'" before dazzling us with their gappy blackened toothy pegs. Unsure of exactly where to look and what to say, we heard laughter coming over from their table which was when we realised the hillbilly teeth were thankfully made of rubber and their American accents slightly exaggerated.
Three days later I was on my way to the airport with mum to drop her off in front of departures then keep on driving along to arrivals where I was picking up my new Brisbane visitor Georgie. Dubai was the first stop in her European holiday during which she will also be catching up with our mutual friends Mij and Troy over in Finland. I must confess that in the lead up to Georgie's visit her number one Dubai activity request was making me a little nervous and I initially wondered how I could weasel my way out of personally taking part. So to combat this feeling of insecurity I coerced Lauren and her visitor from home Jono along to the afternoon dune bashing activity of quad biking. It was much much more fun than I had imagined and towards the end I was getting up quite a speed. Nothing matched to Jono or Georgie's donut dirt spins but enough to feel the satisfaction of wind and sand blowing into my face - sadly the later of which is becoming a more and more familiar feeling to me here in Dubai.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Buffets and Bollinger brunches are something which my friends and I have completely licked (yes, both metaphorically and physically), however a la carte dining has, to date, been somewhat neglected on our list of culinary ventures. After realising this pattern of consumption, my good friend Natalie and I agreed it was time to broaden our horizons and try something new - something which was not meant to be hard given the endless options Dubai has to offer. Of course each of the 256 pages we turned in the Time Out eating guide produced another delicious review and thus another option for us to consider over the next hour.
Finally, the reservation was made, our heels were on and the perfume had been spritzed - we were ready for our table for two at the stylish water-side restaurant, The Aquarium. We knew that this place was not only famed for its food but also its aquarium but we expected something more proportionate to an extra large domestic tank, not a floor to ceiling centerpiece!
Starting with a soft-as-silk foie gras on toast and chunks of sweet orange chutney I was sure to save room for the main course (which we both ordered) honey basted-crispy skinned fish on creamy potato mash and beans. While the succulent pieces of fish fell away from my knife like butter, I think Natalie and I were both quite glad to be out of view from the aquarium's beautifully colourful inhabitants.
Alright, alright, here's a sweet ending for you all as requested:
So back to the menu we went, and voted quite unanimously on sharing the warm saucy chocolate cake which was quite delicious and I am certain there wasn't a single crumb left for us to fight over - just the bill ;)
Sunday, July 22, 2007
1 = the number of hours spent in the said supermarket
16 = the total number of fresh bread roll varieties I counted on offer in their bakery section
$US50 = how much lighter my wallet was after the visit.
Walking into the boutique I was greeted by girls dressed in oh so chic punk attire - short shorts over black fishnets, obligatory rock-group t-shirt, heavy eyeliner offset by some incredibly cute accessories. I had a couple of friends who were not far from my thoughts during the visit, most especially my *insert American slang* BFF Louise who is perhaps a bigger fan of Sex and the City than me, and I just know she would have been salivating over the Carrie-esque bling and clothes like I was. Fast forward the purchase of a pair of gold sparkly hooped earrings and a pretty blue dress, I was again zipping across Manhattan towards the upper West Side to visit a good family friend and his cute as a button daughter Emma who had recently turned four.
The three of us walked around the corner from their apartment to a lovely retro diner which looked just like a movie set, with seats at the counter and pots of coffee on the warmers. Lunch (of American sized proportions) was followed by scoops of homemade strawberry ice cream (with chunks of real strawberries), a big frothy milkshake and two rides on the Donald Duck musical sidewalk ride. All in all, a pretty good afternoon for two girls that day in Manhattan!
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
On my first night in Jyväskylä, Troy's Finnish Cousin Janne and his wife Maria invited us to their place for a truly heavenly BBQ grill dinner. Admittedly Janne is a published chef, but I don't think I have ever tasted vegetables so full of flavour, and this was the case with every meal during my visit - packed with such intense flavour I just wanted to cram my suitcase with fresh fruit and vegetables - and a few dozen sausages. With the sun still up I was a little embarrassed to be suppressing yawns after dinner over glasses of red wine, until I realised it was close to 11pm! I had been warned that it was 24hr sunlight at this time of year, but I thought it would be more like dim twilight!
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Of the 11 of us only one was an experienced skipper - our Irish captain Chris - so you can imagine the follies that took place over the course of four days and certainly the wrath of mother nature didn't help matters. Day one we set sail from the Seychelles marina just after lunchtime with ice cold eskys full of beer, champagne, wine and ginger beer for the Pimms!! Music immediately started filtering through speakers and toasts were made to smooth sailing as we each reserved a spot on the netted flooring at the front of the catamaran, breathing in the oncoming ocean breezes and the gentle sound of breaking waves from underneath. Then, as if someone had flicked the 'off' switch for clear skies, sun, fun and laughter it was clear we were heading directly into an impressive storm. After two hours of nauseous wave riding through grey skies and pelting rain we were jubilant sailors to be finally reaching a protected harbour for the night.
Our victory unfortunately was short lived. In order to make our way onto the mainland for dinner we had to rely on the small six-man inflatable dinghy to take us to the refuge of steady ground, however after watching Captain Chris yank on that motor chord with impressive gusto for ten minutes we started to face the realisation that we would not be walking on land that night. With limited food supplies and a diminishing stock of seasickness tablets I knew it was time to open up the sausages which I had bought along in my mini-esky bag. No longer were the crew mocking my domestic organisation, instead they were lining up to get their ration of two sausages and tomato sauce. The remainder of the trip proved to be much smoother - picking star fruit from island trees, meeting some lovely local people at dinner and as each pink sunset fell over it became customary to sit on the front deck to pop corks and marvel at the incredible view around us.
Living off the fat of the land with fellow Aussie Melanie, and those knock out sunsets!!
On our third afternoon six of us jumped into the waters for the final time, with our snorkels and flippers to check out the marine life and it wasn't long before we came across an extremely friendly and equally curious yellow turtle. We just could not believe our luck at not only finding a turtle, but to have him stay and swim with us! We formed a circle around our new friend and he casually inspected us each, looking directly into our eyes. He let us get so close we were able to touch his slippery mossy green back. It will be a moment I will never forget and if it's possible to get underwater goosebumps, I certainly had them!
Sunday, May 13, 2007
The morning after arriving into Osaka I woke up, studied the train information then ventured out walking along the river in the warm sunshine towards the station. I bought my ticket and in just over half an hour I was pulling into Kyoto after a journey which took us at reasonable speed along the sides of endless apartments and (the further out we went) alongside empty fields of green. I was interested to see so many futons hung over (the majority of) the apartment balconies like horse saddles basking in the morning sunlight, waiting to be returned inside later that evening.
My only intention that day was to make my way to Kiyomizu temple which (from the pictures I had seen) looked to be one almighty temple, but as I had almost the whole day to explore I walked with little purpose and it took me first up to Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. It didn't take long before I started to feel relaxed and Zen like myself, looking at the impeccably kept lush gardens with flowing wave formations in white stones and bamboo water features. I was very careful to obey correct shoe etiquette in the various areas of the grounds. Some parts I had to swap my shoes for cute little red ones and in other parts it were plain brown versions (which were much more Crosby-like). One such custom which took me a few minutes to absorb was the one which applied to walking from one part of the grounds to the other, which was separated by a small driveway. To go through one gate to the next, one was required to exactly obey the order of written instructions so as to not disturb the Dragon Art...or so the English translation told me.
After the Kennin-ji Temple I began to walk up the streets towards the top of the hill where Kiyomizu sits. The walk there was almost as good as the destination itself. Along the way I met two beautiful Geisha girls who kindly let me take their photo and so obviously marvel at the opulence of their costume. I saw three cheeky boys each giving rickshaws rides to people through the narrow streets of Kyoto and I wished I knew what these boys were saying because each time they rushed past me their passengers were always giggling uncontrollably at what ever they were hearing.
Kiyomizu temple, perched on top of a mountain, was teeming with people most of which were school students. I couldn't believe how gloriously green and dense the mountainside backdrop was and at just how high up above the city the temple was. There was so much more to see besides the temple that I didn't even make my way inside! I watched young girls walk with their eyes shut laughing at themselves while trying to make their way (unharmed) from one 'fortune' rock to the next for good luck; people drinking cups of mountain fresh trickling water which is believed to be cleansing and purifying; and students getting their fortune read from a lucky-dip style container of numbered sticks, each digit holding a different outcome of their fate! While I was watching this and trying to work out what was going on, a group of three school girls came running around the corner and stopped right in front of me, smiling from ear to ear at me. They wished to practice their English on me and have their photo taken and I was only too happy to oblige, I think the interest was quite mutual! After writing my name and country in their autograph book we waved each other good bye and I walked back down the little streets stopping off for a bowl of noodles and then jumping back onto the train heading back towards downtown Osaka.
Monday, May 07, 2007
A few years ago I lived with my very dear friends Wah and Man (who are twins) for a little while when I first moved out of home, and some of my fondest memories are of the heavenly authentic Chinese meals which they would cook for me. It opened my eyes to what I had been missing out on, and most certainly this education would make for slower business with my previously favoured Chinese takeaway restaurant. Our kitchen was always perfumed with Chinese five spice chicken, bubbling buoyant dumplings or some kind of seafood steaming sensation on the stove.
It had been over a year since my last Cheung family meal and I couldn't get to that house fast enough! Man had the day off work and in typical fashion he had organised a large variety of ingredients to be sacrificed in our bubbling pot of liquid stock. His parents were both home this day and joined us at the table for the feast of beef, mushrooms, chicken, prawns, tofu, sauces and vegetables. Mrs Cheung's astute sense of humour and (certainly for me) her laugh kept us all entertained, it's indescribable but highly contagious and more than makes up for any language barriers. After watching Man single handedly finishing off every last morcel of food on the table and then rubbing his taut round belly we cleared away the evidence and during this process I couldn't help but marvel at the bulging contents of their fridge! On top of this Mrs Cheung had been busy earlier that day making dozens of wontons and their freezer was also positively crammed with many trays of the results.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
This afternoon I went to lunch with my friends Dan and Freya, to a large corporate building which we had never been to before, right behind our own 53-storey building. Unsuspectingly this building housed a number of very impressive restaurants and among many things - a newly opened unisex beauty/hair salon. After unashamedly licking our fingers and remnants from our plates of quite possibly the world's best (Angus Beef) burger, Dan asked Freya and I if we would mind waiting while he went and tried the salon next door for a quick trim, to which of course we were most happy to oblige.
They quickly ushered Dan through the waiting room and behind a frosted glass door into the secret-men's-business style hair salon. Freya and I began to use this time wisely, assessing and objectively scrutinising their retail stock of nail polish brands and colours. Reading loudly to Freya the more humorous nail colour names "I'm not really a Waitress..........My Chihuahua Bites!" a slightly older, distinguished well dressed man interrupts, grinning at me - me who was possibly a waitress in denial who owns a rabid mongrel. "I notice" he begins, talking over the top of his glasses "that you are both new to this salon. I am the owner and I was wondering if you would like to enjoy a free hair hot oil treatment and blow dry while your friend is having his hair cut". At this point I notice him using the unfair advantage of height to eye off our untended tresses "perhaps you will be impressed by what you experience and one day will return" he finishes with. Being the more sceptical of us both I try to subtly give Freya the "nothing is for free" eyebrow raise at the very same time the words "why not!" escape out of her mouth. Then I remind myself that this was Dubai, and I had been shown before that it was possible to enjoy something for nothing in this city (ie cocktails on a ladies night, the Bollinger champagne give-away at the Easter brunch, grocery home delivery, a night at the Burj, golf cart transport etc etc).
Side by side we were eased into our basin-side reclining chairs before our friendly hairdressers started massaging us into a drooling comatose. After gently prodding us awake we were then escorted to some more seats for our hot oil hair treatment facilitated by a state of the art steaming machine. The hair oil ingredients (we were informed by the owner) was his own concoction and contained so many secret herbs and spices that even the Colonel would have had heart palpitations over (not his words). As Freya and I resumed our chatting over steaming cups of tea, and under our visibly steaming hair machine, I couldn't help but notice my feet were being lowered into a warm body of water. Looking down and to my left it became apparent that we were also being given manicures and pedicures!!
Unaware of this insane series of events, Daniel walks into the salon to find his patiently waiting friends being waited on (quite literally) hand and foot!! He shakes his head and starts laughing at the scene in front of him, I can see the question marks plastered all over his head and we gently advise him that it would be best if he continued on home without us while we see the rest of the treatments out.
An hour and a half later we both emerge from the salon with twinkling fingers and toes and seriously shiny hair. Of course the two of us were suckers to both a good deal and amazing service, and walked out armed with a wad of their business cards and a three month membership.
* Photos will be posted as soon as they come to hand!
Monday, April 02, 2007
Ahlan tent/studio - Ahlan being Dubai's conservative answer to a trashy gossip magazine. Like well trained monkeys we (Jessie, Natalie, Dan and I) proceeded to snap into an array of poses as instructed by our follicly challenged European photographer on the count of each "THREE!!". The contorting and pouting in our heels was all très tiring and as such we continued our search for a well populated watering hole. After establishing our base camp and ascertaining that the closest bar did indeed stock Pimms we began to survey the immaculately dressed punters (I use this term loosely as betting in Dubai is illegal). One major difference I noted at these races compared to the ones I had been to at home, was the absence of actually being able to see the horses race in front of the masses, this would require entrance into a dry area. Needless to say I saw no horses that day.
Always an ingenious idea, I used this occasion to break in a new pair of towering black high heels. Thinking that my gel insert "party heels" would provide me with cushy satin like comfort all day I was sadly mistaken. Note to self: blisters cannot be numbed/prevented by marketing ploys involving pictures of masseuses and phrases like walking on clouds and floating on air. Instead my feet were making it clear by the end of the evening that walking on glass, fire or cactus plants was now an enticing option.
Rather than run the risk of perpetuating any race-day barefoot cliches, Natalie and I accosted the one-eyed driver of a passing golf buggy to give us a lift to the nearest first aid tent for some medical attention. We may or may not have stretched the truth somewhat as to my condition (ie glass wedged in foot) but what ever we said (or didn't say) worked! Our visually impaired driver took us with great speed and accuracy across grassy knolls and through the clusters of glossy girls and well dressed men until we reached an oasis of medical supplies. We were understandably met with some raised eyebrows and looks of disappointment from the first aid team when presented with the situation at hand but I was a desperate desperate woman - who was laughing uncontrollably at Natalie who was now getting trigger happy with her camera pointed squarely at me! With shoes firmly on, and blindingly white plasters beaming away from my feet we ended the day via our final golf buggy ride to the exit. Waving like two beauty pageant runners-up on a float, we stood perched on the back of the cart clinging onto the vehicle's roof frame giggling like a couple of school girls.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Myself, another Australian girl (Natalie) plus three of the cockpit crew jumped on the subway and before we knew it we were seated at a 'classy' diner/bar/establishment by the name of Smith's Bar perusing the greasy alternatives for brunch. All three of the men (Canadian, American and Kiwi) decided two jugs of American beer would be the perfect accompaniment to our artery hardening meals, this suggestion was met by an encouraging response from the two of us girls. The amber ale cascaded (a little too easily) into our glasses and sure enough it was indeed an excellent addition to our late morning feast. It wasn't long before the liquid gold started to drape a relaxing blanket of impaired judgement over me, but alas I had to put an end to the bender and pull myself together - it was essential I was of sound mind for the very important purchase of a fascinator for the upcoming Dubai races. I knew the address of a little hat shop near Greenwich Village that sold beautiful hats, and my intuition told me there was the perfect number waiting to be bought back to Dubai with me.
Dolores introduced herself with exaggerated hand gestures and a very thick New York accent before making quick work of placing a number of fancy feathered, felted and netted alternatives on my head in the quest to find the right one to wear with my race day outfit. Natalie and I couldn't stop giggling at Dolores, who was small of stature but certainly not of personality. She had so much character we could have sat there for the rest of the afternoon while she entertained us and lead us around the shop (literally) by the hand, describing each of the one-off pieces on display and getting us both to try her favourites on. Natalie fell in love with a big floppy Sienna Miller-esque hat, parading around the little shop in the jaunty piece with extremely positive reviews from her fans (ie me). Apparently this hat was an example of how they start off, before any bells and whistles (or hat bands for that matter) are added. It wasn't long before I was walking out of the store holding a round black hat box, quite satisfied with my (sober) decision.
farewelled at breakfast. We strolled around the suburb marvelling at how hot the day was (easily around the 25degree Celsius mark), a world away with what was to come three days later when JFK airport would be closed down following a winter storm, leaving 5" of snow and ice across the Big Apple. How lucky to have visited on such a summery day, despite swealtering in our layers of winter woolies, I can't wait for my next date with New York - I think I might have just fallen in love this time!
Friday, March 09, 2007
The exhibition presented a collection of works which Picasso produced in the last decade of his life. I spent a blissful two hours getting lost in the frenzy of abstract shapes and bright colours in his canvases. It made me remember how much I enjoyed my days at university studying works like his.
Once I had finished catching up with Picasso I walked through the narrow back streets, going into some of the cute boutiques with funky nic-nacs where I bought some chocolate wrapped in the cutest paper - little red strawberries and cursive running writing in German (who knows what it says!), and some other little pieces for a friend of mine at home who needs some cheering up at the moment. While I was waiting on the street for my train to arrive I bought some yummy blueberries and bananas from a big open-air fruit stall, I have great designs for those blueberries - am thinking of making some brulee perhaps. I still had a few minutes to spare before my ride came along to take me back to reality so I bought a small mountain of pomme fritte, with a big dollop of creamy mayonnaise on top and a miniature sized fork. I sat outside the stall, in the warmth of the sunshine on one of their park-bench tables with several beautiful older ladies seated around me who were delicately consuming their hot chips, dressed so impeccably in their burberry-checkered trench coats and matching bags, with coiffured hair combed perfectly into place.