Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sailing: DOSC and VOR


The wind was dying at the finish of the second race
We’ve gotten a good dose of sailing this last weekend of 2011, with a race in Dubai yesterday, the Volvo Ocean Race venue grand opening today, and more VOR excitement coming this week.

Once again we volunteered for DOSC race committee; this time it was the Commodore’s Cup series, which goes until the beginning of May. When we arrived at the club, we ran into Michal and Izabella, along with the skipper of Goan Bananas, and we learned that they were short on crew. After some discussion it was determined that I should race and Mark would go with the race committee. He told the Bananas owner, Jed, “She’s really good.” I just love that guy.

We had a truly international, if somewhat green, crew: Jed and Rob, the mast man, are Brits. Michal, Izabella and Michal’s sister Agnieszka, are Polish, Cynthia is from Toronto, and of course I am USA. I was amazed at how American Midwest Cynthia sounded to me! Toronto isn’t that far from Detroit, where I grew up.

We held our own upwind
A lot of the crew needed to “learn the ropes,” literally. Michal, however, is a great bowman and knows his stuff. He would explain things to Izabella and Agnieszka. A couple of times when I explained something, he would say “I just told them that, in Polish.” I said “Well, now they know the English translation,” and we all laughed. They were all great, though, and by the second race our crew work was pretty good. At one point Jed started barking at us and I said “We’re getting better! You can tell because he’s yelling at us.” I think Jed laughed the most at that one.

Goan Bananas is a Beneteau First 30e, vintage 1984. It’s a good solid boat, if a bit heavier and with a much smaller cockpit than I’m used to. I asked how old the sails were because, seeing them furled, I expected them to be much more bagged out than they were. Jed said they are only two years old, but they look really dirty, because it’s dusty here and it never rains. When the kite went up I said “I know this sail isn’t two years old,” and he said no, but he’s saving up for two new kites – for light air and heavy air.

I asked; the name came with the boat.
Should I tell Jed about bananas and bad luck?
We sailed two races, both windward – leeward with downwind finishes. I reflected on the fact that, one year ago, Mark and I were just getting acquainted with Wildcard. Never in a million years would we have guessed then that we would be where we are now! We finished with two thirds, which was good enough to get us a bucket of Heinekens as a prize. We had a beer with the Bananas skipper and crew, and Mark and I secured our second sponsor signature on our DOSC membership application.

Jed expressed an interest in having me on his crew again. I enjoyed sailing with him but we’ll see, because his regular crew will be back from their holiday vacations. Plus, Mark and I want to either sail a boat of our own or maybe get on a bigger boat that can accommodate us both.

Bicycling to the VOR

Waiting for the grand unveiling
This morning Mark and I took our new bicycles to the Marina area, so that we could ride along the downtown Corniche. We parked in our secret spot, and rode through the boatyard near the ramp, realizing as we did that we were riding right through the middle of Camper’s headquarters. It turned out that we were just in time to see the opening ceremony for the Abu Dhabi Destination Village. We also happened to meet a journalist who told us that he writes a blog for the race, and that the boats are due to arrive on January 4th at 4:00 p.m. Admission to the race village is free, so you can bet that we will be there.

Yes, I said new bicycles. Since I forgot to take photos of them, I am going to save their unveiling for another blog. But I will say that as in everything else, Mark went for the cool new technology.

Happy New Year to all.
I hope that this year, dreams you didn’t even think to dream of will come true.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holidays in the UAE


Many people asked, and as it approached I wondered: are our holidays celebrated in the Middle East? Now I can tell you at least what it was like, at least from our view this year.


With some imagination, this looks like Christmas
The first weekend I was here, Mark and I went to Ace Hardware where I saw Christmas cards and decorations for sale right next to the Halloween merchandise, which didn’t surprise me much. I already knew that a large percentage of the population here are foreigners. So I began to wonder not whether non-Muslim holidays are celebrated, but rather if or how are American and European holidays blended into the culture? My impression, based at this point on very limited contact with Emiratis, is that Muslim and Christian holidays are celebrated and mutually respected but I don’t yet know if Muslims join in celebrations with Christian friends.
Yet there is no shortage of Christmas-like decorations because UAE National Day is December 2nd. It’s a good time of year for the holiday because it’s cool enough for people to be outside parading and celebrating. And the flags, with their predominant red, green, and white, could look to us like Christmas decorations. The colored lights, tinsel, and other decorations set the scene for the expats to enjoy as their holiday season advances.



Deb had the blues for friends and family,
so she asked Santa for lots of Skype calls

Professionals in the expat community, who are mostly from England and Europe, have money to spend on Christmas. The hotels, malls and branded stores market to holiday shoppers in exactly the same way we see in the US: holiday music, bargains and sales, special menus and events, lavish decorations, Christmas trees, tinsel garlands, gingerbread houses, and visits from Santa. Here, it’s just a more British feeling Christmas. Emiratis don’t make Christmas Day a holiday, but the Brits observe Christmas and then follow up with Boxing Day.


Christmas is for kids

This year for the first time all schools in Abu Dhabi are following the same calendar, so families with children attending different schools can spend holidays together. Schools are on a term break from December 15th to January 8th.
Is this what you would call a Christmas ham?


One place you might notice that you’re not at home is in the grocery stores or hypermarkets. While they have the usual decorations for sale, what’s missing at Thanksgiving are the piles of fresh and frozen monster turkeys and cases of stuffing mix, canned pumpkin, and cranberry sauce.

At Christmas, you will never see a holiday ham unless you go to Spinney’s, which is the original grocer to the British expat population here. There, you must venture to the back of the store and find your way into the Pork Room. Yes. I said “Pork Room.” That’s the only place where you can buy bacon, pork sausage, pork loin and chops. And the puniest holiday ham I have ever seen, although it tastes delicious.


Thanksgiving in the desert,
American-style
For our Thanksgiving dinner, we joined a group of our neighbors for a potluck. I decided to make two kinds of stuffing, a traditional sage one with mushrooms and celery, and a recipe I found on the Sunset website (still tied to the West!) that contained Italian sausage. Even though I knew Italian sausage is made with pork, I figured I could find something close. When I got to the store, it wasn’t that easy. There was English or Irish mustard sausage, which didn’t seem right. Lamb sausage, but I knew that Deb didn’t eat lamb so I avoided that. There was Brazilian beef mustard sausage. And camel sausage! I almost got it just to try, but decided to wait for another time. Finally I chose a package labeled “longarissa.” After I got home I googled it and found out that it’s a Portuguese sausage similar to Mexican chorizo. Close enough!
This tree might be real.
Where did they get it?

There are two other things you will never see here that for Americans no holiday season could be without: Halloween pumpkin patches and Christmas tree lots. There are no carved jack-o-lanterns on porches on Halloween, and I didn’t see anybody dressed in costume, although I have to admit that the abayas and shelyas . . . well, never mind.

And nobody has a real Christmas tree.



Anniversary in Oman
Pool area at the Sifawy Boutique Hotel
Mark and I celebrate our wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve; this year was our twelfth. We looked online for hotels and decided to go to the Sifawy Hotel on the Gulf of Oman outside of Muscat, the capital and largest city.

This trip took us through the UAE-Oman border crossing, so maybe it’s a good time for a brief update on the “Rigmarole” story. Bear with me; it’s almost over. You may remember that at the last writing Deb and I were medicating ourselves after being told that our certificated marriage licenses had to receive a stamp that could only be obtained from the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. We prepared to send them via UPS, and I called the embassy and was told that we could send them together, along with a prepaid return envelope and check for 60AED. But the check must be a bank draft, no personal checks.

The problem is you can’t get a bank draft without a UAE bank account, which we didn’t have yet. Money exchange places wouldn’t give us a money order for US dollars. In order to open a UAE bank account, you need to verify that you are a resident and earn a certain level of income. Dana was the closest to having all these ducks in a row, so he went to the bank to begin the process. It took several days because by the time he had the paperwork for the account completed it was after 2 p.m. so it was too late to make a deposit. Sorry, but you can’t get a bank draft because you have no money in your account. Even if I give you cash? Sorry, no. Come back another time. Of course, since he was working it was hard to get there by 2 p.m.
Finally something went better
than we expected
When we finally got the certificates sent off it was mid-December, and Mark and I were making our Oman plans. We were surprised when the return package arrived within a week! Then, the question: submit my papers for the resident visa before Christmas, and hope I get my passport back in time to go to Oman? Or wait?
We decided to risk it, but we postponed our trip for one day, leaving on Friday morning instead of Thursday night which worked out better anyway because we didn’t want to drive after dark. We got it back in time. Yet for some inexplicable reason, Deb’s passport came back with the resident stamp while mine came with a pink paper and instructions from Mubarak, the public relations officer, to be sure to get a stamp when crossing back into the UAE from Oman.
Bloody stamps!
When we entered Oman, the entry fee for Mark, as a UAE resident, was 5 Omani Rial (OMR) or $12.50 US and for me, still a tourist because I didn’t have the stamp in my passport, the fee was 20 OMR or $50 US. The Omani – US exchange rate is similar to the UAE – USA ratio, except in reverse.
The happy news is that it looks as though, finally, Deb and I will have our resident status. So we can start working on our driver’s licenses and Emirates ID cards. Goody.

Al Hajar peaks
Into Oman

By this time Mark and I were ready for a change of pace and scene, and in Oman we got just that. After our expensive but successful border crossing we drove through the rugged, rocky Al Hajar mountains, which reminded us of the barren volcanic rocks that we see in Nevada and California.
We arrived on the coast at Sohar, an ancient port that supported a population of 360,000 in the tenth century when majan, which is Arabic for seafaring people, transported copper, fruit, ivory, and other products from the region to India and the Far East. It is believed that Sindbad the sailor in Arabian Nights was inspired by majan from Sohar, although I have seen that claim made for Muscat, too. Today, Sohar's population is 90,000.
Modern blends with traditional in fishing villages
Oman is clean, but trash washes from the sea onto the beaches.
No matter where you are, don't litter!
From Sohar we drove southwest along the coastal Batinah region, with a little guidebook that we had picked up on our previous trek over the border. For most of the drive the road was a four-lane divided highway occasionally interrupted by a large roundabout with a huge monument in it, yet we still got the flavor of the region’s many fishing villages, forts and castles, and wadis, or valleys. I think of the wadis more as ravines, washes, or arroyos, since they are rocky drainages from the mountains above. The runoff from the mountains contains minerals that enrich the soil, and we saw many date palm and banana plantations as we drove. I usually look for produce from Oman when I’m shopping.

This roundabout in Muscat with the Turkish coffee pot 
symbolizes the legendary hospitalty of Arab peoples
Arriving in Muscat, we knew we were in a large city, but absent were the glittering glass towers that we’ve gotten used to in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Instead we drove through the modern Mutrah Business District to the Mutra Suq area where the rocks form a natural harbor. Mark and I commented to each other on the absence of dirt and litter, and we later found out that Muscat is known as one of the world's cleanest cities.



It doesn't get much prettier than this
We walked along the charming corniche, but found the souks closed. It is taking us far too long to remember that shops are usually closed from 1 to 4 p.m. daily. By the way, you may (or may not) notice that sometimes my spelling is inconsistent. I’m a good speller – I don’t even spellcheck – but here in the Middle East we see variations on spelling constantly and so I will give in before I go crazy. Shayla or sheyla? Then yesterday I saw a store sign that said “”Abayas and Sheilas.” Yikes. So it’s souk, souq, or suq. Jebel or jabal. Al or As? Whatever.

The mountain road was dangerous but beautiful
This no doubt saved a life
The villages were full of goats, kids, and children
Leaving Muscat we drove over a challenging mountain road, through some fascinating little fishing villages, to our hotel. The area is known as Jebel Sifa and the Sifawy Boutique Hotel is part of the first phase of a brand new luxury development with Oman’s first inland marina and, in the future, several five-star hotels http://www.jebelsifah.com/navigation/home/ . We knew that the hotel had only been open since September, and were prepared for a quiet stay, which is exactly what we got. I must admit to having mixed feelings about the amount of development going on in remote places like this, but the fact is that it provides employment and it gives us the opportunity to go there. Plus, I think that the tourism industry in the developing world has the benefit of learning from what has been done in the past, and is protective of the environment. I hope.

I posted a review of the hotel on Travel Advisor but as of this writing it isn't up yet, so I can provide the link.
The docks at Sifa Marina are built to accommodate large yachts
My pashmina was a cozy wrap while relaxing with an i-book 
The fish were jumping like crazy in the mornings

A Muscat Christmas
Since we missed the shopping window on the way into town, and we hadn’t seen many sights, we decided to take another trip into Muscat on Christmas Eve. Instead of driving back over the mountain road to get there, we took the 45-minute water taxi ride. It felt great to be on a boat, even if it was a powerboat. The hotel booked the water taxi and the concierge also arranged to have a taxi driver friend of his meet us at the marina.
The one and only short Mohammed
wearing the typical Omani hat

“What’s his name?” Mark asked, “so we know which one he is?” Mohammed. “Well. That narrows it down . . .” When we got to the marina there was only one taxi, but Mark still said, “So . . . you must be the short Mohammed!” Nice one, Mark.



The crossed swords are on the flag of Oman
Mohammed was a local, so he knew where to take us. First we went into Old Muscat, which is studded with forts dating back to the days when the Omanis fought off Portuguese invaders. We were impressed with the Al Alam Palace, which stands at the end of a long pedestrian walkway. Old Muscat is chock full of museums, which I would like to visit if we come back and have more time.
Mohammed took us up the old road for this superb view of Old Muscat

Me: "You're going to drink
that whole garlic shake?"
Him: "It was goood."
We got into the Mutrah Suq area about noon, and Mark wanted to stop for lunch, so we went to a place called Cornish CafĂ©. They don’t serve British food though – it’s named after the corniche. Mark ordered a garlic yogurt shake. Keep in mind, this was our anniversary.

Mustra Suq was closed. Again.
Maybe we finally learned?
By the time we finished lunch and headed to the souk, it was 1:00 p.m. Guess what? Closed until 4:00 p.m. which was the time we needed to catch the water taxi back to Al Sifa. Never mind, we walked around and went to the Ghalyas Modern Museum, and pretty soon it was time to find Mohammed so he could drive us back to the marina.


Soccer fields are built on the sandy beaches
Mark and I spend a lot of our time on the water, and I need to see a place from that point of view to get the full picture of it. While we were zooming home I marveled at the stratified rocks – you can really see that this former seafloor has been uplifted and bent. The children in the fishing villages were playing in soccer fields that were built right on the beaches. This rugged coastline reminded me of the northern California coast, except that the water is much warmer and calmer!
We thought we could go through this arch until we saw the rock in the middle

We finally made it to the suq on Christmas morning. A cruise ship had arrived in town, the first one I have seen since I arrived in the UAE. What a difference, being around so many tourists. Mark was in the buying mood, but this gold jewelry wasn’t for me. We did see a lot of Arab women bargaining in the shops; the gold jewelry is traditionally worn during their Eid holidays.

On Christmas Day the cruise ship was in, the souk was open
We made the six hour trip home to Abu Dhabi in time to have a delicious “holiday ham” dinner with Deb and Dana. Their computers were “skyping” off the hook, so I guess Deb got her wish from Santa.
We spent Christmas in the land of gold, frankincense, and myhrr

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

At The Top: Burj Khalifa


“Get Ready to Enter the Record Books,” the ticket says.

The spire is the white dot at the top
There are three ways to gain admission to the elevator ride up to the Burj Khalifa observation platform which, let’s clear this up right now, is NOT at the very tippy-top of the building. The tip is the spire. The height of the entire structure is 828 meters (2,716.5 feet) which makes it the tallest building in the world, but maybe only for now. The Saudis plan to eclipse the Burj Khalifa with their own building which will measure in at over 1000 meters. The exact height is secret.

You don’t need a reservation to go up. You can purchase tickets at the ticket counter, but you’re taking a chance on waiting in line for a long time. Or you can pay 400AED per person for an immediate entry ticket, only available at the ticket counter. Or you can do what we did, which is purchase tickets for a designated date and time online for 100 AED which is $27 US. When I booked our tickets, just within the required 24-hour advance time period, the only tickets left were in the evening, after dark. Oh well, I booked them for 8:00 p.m. That would give us plenty of time to get there after Mark got off work.

We drove to Dubai in the daylight so that Peter could see the architecture he missed on the way home from the airport. On the outskirts of town Mark pointed out an industrial “free zone,” where the UAE allows 100% foreign ownership of businesses with no taxes.

Next we passed the Dubai Marina area, where dozens of residential glass towers are clustered around looking down upon a maze of manmade inlets and little islands. This is where one of the most eye catching buildings is still going up, the Infinity Tower, which twists more than 90 degrees. You can see a video I shot of it on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05N5EOvgi1g&feature=g-upl&context=G2a7136cAUAAAAAAAAAA
We passed by more industrial areas and though downtown Dubai, where the Dubai Mall and the Burj are located, headed for Dubai Creek where we would burn what daylight remained until our appointment to go up.
You can ride one of these little charmers across the creek
for one dirham, about 37 cents.
Dubai Creek is an ancient waterway and the site of the earliest settlement in Dubai in the 19th century. We walked along the waterfront toward the mouth and the Arabian Gulf, admiring the dhows converted into floating restaurants. They must have been booked, because we weren’t subjected to a single solicitation.

Meanwhile, little wooden boats called abras were ferrying people over to our side of the creek. Most of the people weren’t tourists; they were workers, and the boats were loaded. There was a strong outbound current running, and we watched the calm maneuvering of the drivers while the passengers silently waited to disembark.

He was such a good salesman
We wandered into the narrow, colorful passageways of the textile souk, where Mark was suddenly accosted by a young man. Before any of us knew what happened, he had stolen Mark’s glasses right off of his face and hidden them in his pocket!

Next he produced a ghutrah, also known as a keffiyeh, and deftly wound it around Mark’s head while Peter and I watched. Looks good, yes, he needs to buy, yes! No, no, Mark said, not me, but my wife might want to buy something. Come, come into my shop and I will show you many beautiful things.


I tried on some shoes
So we let him show us his pashminas, which are cashmere shawls, and woven table coverings and cushion covers. What a technique, and what a salesman. I bought a simple pashmina with a paisley border, an embroidered table runner, and a cushion cover with a camel on it, for Dana and Deb’s Christmas gift. I bargained him down from 560 AED to 400. I’m learning.


Fast cars are a tourist attraction
Peter picked out a nice Rolls.
Finally it was time to get moving toward the Burj Khalifa. After some discussion about where to park, Mark prevailed and parked in our “usual” parking area, near the Dubai Mall main entrance where the valet parking is. His stated reason was that he would remember where we had parked, but I suspect he also wanted Peter – and himself – to see the pricy cars rolling up.

Meanwhile, I decided I had enough time to run into the mall and use the restroom before heading over to the building. I didn’t see a restroom sign on the main floor but I found an elevator with a restroom sign pointing up and down, so I took the elevator down, where I found myself in the food court. I hurried around and on my way back something bright white caught the corner of my eye.



The model caught my eye
It was a model of the Burj Khalifa. I took a few more steps and then looked back. I saw a ticket booth. People were lining up in front of a door. I went over to a girl in a uniform.

 “I have tickets. Is this where we go up?” Yes.

Then it dawned on me. I had forgotten to find out where the entrance was! Mark and I had assumed that we would somehow find it at the base of the building. That huge building! Through sheer, dumb, blind, completely clueless luck I had stumbled upon it, and with no time to spare. I hurried back up to the entrance and said to the guys, “We have to go down. I found it.” Their mouths about fell to the floor; for once, even Peter was speechless.






There was a lot to see on the way up
The journey to the top and back down are as much a part of the experience as being at the top. First you go up an escalator and through a security checkpoint. When Peter saw that he started to squawk and I was a little worried, but he quieted down.

Next you board a “travelator” where you view a moving pictorial of Dubai’s history. You stop at a point where you can look up at the outside of the building, and then a high-speed elevator takes you up. I was worried that the elevator would be glass, but now I realize that I’m not the only one who would be completely terrified by that – there is no way they could send people up where they could see. As it was, I barely felt anything going up or down and I am very sensitive to motion. The floor numbers sped by, and the only thing that told us we were moving up were our ears, popping.


At the Top facing east

We emerged from the elevator to the magical view of Dubai at night. One side of the building is an outdoor observation deck, with glass panels that have gaps so you can shove your face, your hand, or your camera through. We stayed up there quite a while, and watched the water show from above.
The water show looked tiny from above, but it's amazing

On the way out, you can read all about the project, see models of structural elements, and view photos of construction and the project team.

It was a completely worthwhile experience and next month, when we’re in Dubai for the big shopping festival, I want to go up during the daytime. I should probably book now.

Does RYC have the world's highest burghee?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Visitor from the Old World




The dhow harbor felt like a trip back in time
Peter Cameron, our sailing tactician and friend, stopped by recently on his way to Perth, where he spends a month or so each year at this time, escaping dreary weather in California and enjoying summer in the southern hemisphere. His plane from San Francisco to Dubai arrived after dark so we couldn't see much of the city as we drove through, but nonetheless Peter had many comments and questions about the construction, infrastructure, and life in the UAE. Answering his questions made me realize how much Mark and I have learned and adjusted these past weeks.


Peter was only here for three nights and two full days, both of which were work days for Mark, so I was the designated daytime guide. We asked Peter what he was interested in, and he said he wanted to go to the top of a building and look out at the landscape. What a great idea! I booked tickets online o go to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for Thursday night, and found a place in Abu Dhabi where we could have lunch in a revolving restaurant on Wednesday.


We started out Wednesday morning with a few laps in the pool, which Peter determined was so warm it made him lazy. He also claimed his board shorts slowed him down; I had somehow succeeded in discouraging him from wearing the Speedo he usually wears for lap swimming. Expats and tourists wear their usual bathing attire, including bikinis and Speedos, at hotel pools and private compounds like ours. I haven’t been to a beach here yet to see what people wear in public. Once Tom’s wife Lucy arrives, we’ll go to the beach at the Corniche.

Peter and I spent the day on what I have come to think of as the Abu Dhabi loop tour. From where we live, you can drive the perimeter of the main Abu Dhabi island and see the most famous and important sights. We started out driving the eastern corniche along Al Salam Street, which is like a freeway. I’m now aware that all of the waterfront roads are corniches; the highway exit signs all point to “Corniche” no matter where you are on the island and which direction you are headed. The road along the downtown waterfront is called Corniche Road, and when people talk about the Corniche, that’s what they are referring to.
Have I mentioned that this place can be confusing?



There is very little natural vegetation here;
protecting mangroves is critical.
From Al Salam we could view the Eastern Mangrove Lagoon. As we drove by, I pointed out the kayak rental concession. You can rent a kayak for 100Dhs per hour, which is around $27, although for your first time out you are required to go with a guide (150Dhs) so that you don’t get lost and, I hope, you will also learn about the importance of this ecosystem. Mangrove forests provide wildlife habitat and important ecosystem benefits including the prevention of coastline erosion by ocean currents and waves. This area, which is just a five minute drive from our compound, will be renamed Eastern Mangrove Lagoon National Park, the first of five national parks to be protected, according to the Abu Dhabi 2030 Plan.

Mangrove restoration project


I’m looking forward to getting my stand up paddleboard by ship soon; then I’ll be able to launch at the kayak site and paddle among the mangroves.




We drove northwest toward the city and Peter exclaimed over and over about the extent of the construction. In addition to buildings and entire developments there are endless roads, exits, bridges, overpasses, underpasses, and pipeline projects. The area we were driving though as we entered the city is the new Central Business District. Abu Dhabi’s city core is being shifted from the center of the main island to its edge, and beyond to include nearby Al Rheem island and portions of the original port at Al Mina.


Our first stop was the Al Mina vegetable market, where we bought some apricots, oranges, and a miniature pineapple. Peter harassed me for not bargaining, but I hesitated. It’s hard to bargain when you are so new to a place that you don’t know what you should really be paying. Besides, those of you who know Peter know that I have to give him something to squawk about.


Iranian market
Every household necessity is available
Next I showed Peter the old shipping wharves at Al Mina, which are being decommissioned. We drove past the workers’ housing and little shops and markets at New Mina before turning back toward the dhow harbor and fish market.






The fishing dhows are a trip back in time
Walking around the wharf among the fishing dhows, we both felt the impact of being far from home. Peter said it reminded him of his traveling years as a young man, delivering yachts to far-flung places. I appreciate that scenes like this are still here for us to see. The Emiratis take great pride in their heritage, which includes fishing and pearling in the waters surrounding these desert islands.








Public spaces and access to waterfront are plentiful here
As I mentioned, portions of the Al Mina waterfront will become part of the new Central Business District. People want to be near the water, and the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council recognized the importance of maintaining a connection between the city and the Gulf. Older cities around the world have spent billions of dollars over decades to revitalize old ports in much the same way. I’m sure that when it’s complete, the new business district will have first-class public spaces with spectacular fountains and luscious landscaping. That’s the pattern here.


Port operations have moved to Khalifa Port, which is part of a new industrial zone called the Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD.) Phase 1 of five is operational but still under construction. KIZAD is on the Sheikh Zayed Highway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. You can read about KIZAD at http://www.adpc.ae/en/article/ports/khalifa-port.html


The Palace Hotel marina was fairly empty
We bypassed the fish market because we were having dinner and Trivia Night at The Club. Instead we drove along Corniche Road toward the Palace Hotel, circling around to drive past the gates of the Presidential Palace. You don’t see many guns in the UAE, but the guards here are armed. There is a marina out by the Palace Hotel, and we tried to get in to look at it, but the security guard wouldn’t allow it. I was curious to see how full it was and what types of boats were there. As it turned out, we got to see it later, from our higher vantage point.


Marina Mall is in foreground, Volvo headquarters is in
the area between the marina and the cityfront
Next we turned toward the Marina Mall and Heritage Village area, where preparations are underway for the Volvo Ocean Race competitors’ layover in late January. The big kickoff event is a Coldplay concert on New Year’s Eve. I thought it would be fun to go to the concert, but our group wanted to do something more low key for New Year’s. The VOR is a sailboat race around the world which began in the 1970’s as the Whitbread Round the World Race. Peter sailed it in 1981-82. This year’s fleet is comprised of six boats, including an entry from Abu Dhabi, all of which are using the newest technology in boat design and construction, sails, and instrumentation. Each boat is equipped with video cameras and the crews are fitted with microphones; there are daily Facebook updates. What a difference from when the boats would sail over the horizon and disappear until, weeks later, they would reappear at the next port on the circuit. Another interesting feature of this year’s race is that the exact location of the Abu Dhabi finish line is a secret. Once finished, the boats will be loaded onto a ship and escorted through “Pirate Alley” to finish in Abu Dhabi. Mark is trying to figure out exactly how these logistics will work, but they are doing a good job of keeping it vague. For all the info, go to http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html


"Buy land, they're not making it any more."
What would Mark Twain say about Abu Dhabi?
Finally it was lunch time, and we headed into the center of the Marina Mall, one of the biggest of Abu Dhabi’s many malls. We went up the glass elevator to Tiara Restaurant in the Burj Al Marina, a tower that reminds me a little of Seattle’s Space Needle, or perhaps a water tower in the Midwest. It takes 65 minutes to complete one revolution, and we had views of Abu Dhabi and the Gulf. The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol but like most higher-end places here they serve “mocktails.” Along with the bread basket, our server brought us each a little shot glass of mint lemonade. This drink is good enough to make me forget how much I’d like to sip a glass crispy white wine, and I don’t think Peter missed his Heineken too much, either.


All we need to get onto Lulu Island is a boat.
As we revolved, we speculated on what might be planned for some areas. Lulu Island intrigued us. Visible from the entire length of Corniche Road are its red mounds, palm trees, and beach umbrellas, and from above you can see how the palm trees and other vegetation are planted in neat rows.


There are no bridges to Lulu Island and it has no marinas. What gives? With a little research, I learned that this man-made island was completed in 1992, and has been the focus of several development plans, none of which have materialized. Lulu Island is one of four districts discussed in the 2030 Plan, as a site for development of tourism, housing, and recreation while preserving open space and public access to its beaches. Ownership is shared by two developers. According to the article in the following link, the latest planned project has apparently been suspended, and the island is being used for recreation while the owners look the other way. http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/environment/lulu-island-closed-to-the-public-sort-of


Sometimes delays result in something that’s better in the end. Lulu Island is an interesting site and I hope that, when plans are finalized and whatever development occurs begins, it will have received the benefit of lessons learned from the countless projects that are already underway here.


No matter your view, the Capital Gateway building is remarkable.
I snapped this photo on a walk around our block.
On the way home we passed by the Capital Gate building, which has taken the title of the world’s “Farthest Manmade Leaning Building” away from Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa. Its inclination is 18 degrees. The 18thto the 33rd floors are a Hyatt hotel, with several restaurants, bars, and a “sky spa.” Hmmm. 

I feel a bit more reverence for the Grand Mosque.



We also rounded the Grand Mosque, which Peter thought looked like a space station for aliens.









That night at The Club, we played Trivia. Our team included Mark and me, Peter, Deb and Dana, Tom, and Tom’s British friend Lee, who Peter called a “pommie.” The Club used to be known as The British Club, and its pub menu is still features some very British dishes, including steak and kidney pie which Lee ordered and judged delicious.

Another classic offering is haggis, with sweetbreads and offal. Yum! I ordered a baked potato.

We didn’t win, which would have meant that our all drinks for the night would be on the house, but we were fourth out of twelve and I did guess a lucky number and win a bottle of wine. Not bad for a new team.

What’s a “pommie?”

It’s what Australians call the Brits: Prisoner of Mother England.

Next up: an account of our trip up the Burj Khalifa. And no, we didn't run into Tom Cruise.