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Ed and Annika’s Travel Diary

Monday, 09 Oct 2006

Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Map Introduction

Yes, we’re still alive! Firstly, sorry for not sending an update sooner - we were supposed to email everyone a week after we arrived in Dubai but one week turned into two, two weeks turned into three and somehow three weeks turned into six months. Time certainly flies around here!

Anyway, this is our very first update that a lot of you have been waiting for (we figured we'd better finish our first update before we see a lot of you in November). Sorry it’s so long and if you get bored, keep reading it anyway because we're sure it's better than what you're doing right now (i.e. working) (or just check out the photos on the right hand side of the page). We’re going to post more frequent updates so keep checking the site regularly and please feel free to send us a message – we’d love to hear from you.

Goodbye New Zealand
By Ed

It was wonderful to see everyone one last time before our journey to the desert at our combined leaving party and my 30th birthday. Thanks for all of the cards, presents and good luck wishes - they have all joined us for the journey.

The day after the party (Sunday) was hectic as we had to pack up the house as the movers were coming in first thing Monday morning. Let’s just say I didn’t finish sorting through my stuff until 5am Monday morning! It’s amazing how much (junk) you can accumulate over the years.

We flew out on Wednesday 12 April after an emotional farewell at the airport. Thanks to our family and friends who came to see us off (or to make sure we were really leaving the country)! We flew on one of Emirates’ long range Airbus 340-500 planes – it still is one of the best airlines we have been on and the service is excellent. The total flying time was about 18 hours with a stopover in Melbourne. We slept most of that time as we were so exhausted from the last few weeks. The only mishap on the flight was when an elderly man power chucked over the back of my seat, fortunately missing me but not without leaving a lingering smell for the next … 14 hours.

Hello Dubai
By Ed

We arrived at Dubai International Airport on Thursday 13 April. It is an impressive airport (as is everything in Dubai) and is so large that it took a good 20 or so minutes to walk from the aircraft exit to the arrivals area. We made our way to the Dubai World Trade Centre Apartments, our home for the next month.

Home Sweet Home
By Ed

My work put us up in the apartments for a month while we looked around for a place to rent. The apartments are located on Sheikh Zayed Road, the main drag (i.e. an eight to ten lane highway) in Dubai. We were astonished at how large the apartment was but perplexed at the lack of natural light. Apparently the locals here aren’t too keen on a lot of light coming into their villas or apartments and maybe this has got to do with the heat. Anyway, the first thing that we did was to decorate the 70’s style apartment with the cards and photos we received at our leaving/birthday party. We then headed to the local supermarket and bought some essentials. Although we had only arrived 7 hours earlier, by 2pm we felt cosy in our new home.

House Hunting, Dubai Style
By Annika

House hunting in Dubai will make or break you (as in looking for a villa to rent not buying a house - although the thought of buying a mini version of the North Island of New Zealand was tempting (read about “the World” below))! From talking to most people here it appears to have broken most of them at some point. Who would have thought it so difficult to find a place to rent that:

(a) actually exists! (I know, one would have thought that this was a pre-requisite for renting a villa, but as we found out most villas advertised aren't actually available - it is questionable whether they actually exist at all or are merely used as bait advertising);

(b) doesn't cost something close to the GDP of a few small African nations to rent;

(c) isn't the size of a palace (think Buckingham) - most villas have 4 to 5 bedrooms, plus a maid’s room (a little on the big side for just two) together with the fact that the actual size of the rooms inside these places is beyond compare. For example, our friends Miriam and Dean from New Zealand have rented a new apartment which has one of its living rooms (yes, they have two living rooms, as you do!) about the size of a tennis court (maybe they could have the Dubai Tennis Classic in their living room next year - I think the fact that they have 6 bathrooms may give them the edge!).

Then of course there is the added fact that it’s also impossible to find something modern, simple, minimalist and non-gaudy (not that I'm fussy or anything). Ok, so minimal and simple are not Dubai's strong points. After all we are now living in the city that gave us developments known as "The World" (an enormous man-made collection of islands in the shape of a world map) and "The Palm" (a man-made island shaped like a palm tree and clearly visible from space) , as well as the “Burj Al Arab” (the only 7 star hotel in the world) and now the tallest building in the world (under construction with extendable floors just in case the Freedom Tower in New York City threatens to be taller). But really, if one is going to put gold trimmings in their house, is the garage door the most appropriate place?

Anyway, after the many trials and tribulations of canvassing the city of Dubai from one end to the other to find something we liked and could afford to rent, we have settled on a lovely 4 bedroom brand new villa (we would call it a townhouse or terraced apartment back in New Zealand) about 5 to 10 minutes’ drive from work. The villa is part of a larger complex which includes a lovely big swimming pool, gym with all kinds of equipment and a “Party Hall” (“what?” did I hear you ask? - well just what it sounds like, a hall that is made to have parties in - just what every good complex needs!).

We have been in the villa for the last three and a half months and it is apparent that the workmanship here is not quite up to scratch. We have had quite a few teething problems but things are finally coming right. Here are a few examples of what’s gone wrong with the villa – plumbers coming in five times to fix (and re-fix, and re-fix the re-fix ... you get the idea) three major water cylinder leaks, paint blistering and flaking off the walls, the electrical fire we had in the laundry (a small fire started in the power point and destroyed the power point and the plug that was in it – luckily nothing else was damaged!), the kitchen cabinets ripping away from the wall and the kitchen sink nearly collapsing from the weight of the plumber trying to fix the overhead water heater! Although these were some of the many setbacks we experienced in setting up, we now know that they are just part and parcel of living in Dubai.

Check out the photos of our villa that we have taken over the last four months. We can proudly say we have a place we can now call home. Check out the “before” and “after” photos of the villa and you will see what we’ve been up to. The villa has a decent sized backyard which was, up until a month or so ago, a sand pit. It’s now been turned into a useable outdoor area with half grass and half paving blocks. Ed has now put together the BBQ he shipped over from New Zealand and we are now waiting for the weather to cool down so we can use it!

The neighbours in our complex are very nice and all are expats. It’s very much an international complex with Americans, Dutch, English, Chinese and Germans etc. living around us.

Dubai Demolition Derby
By Annika

A couple of days after our arrival Ed obtained his Dubai driver’s licence as we wanted to hire a rental car for a couple of months. We were proud drivers of a little red 1.5L Honda Civic with the acceleration of a snail. You quickly realise how important it is to have a car that can accelerate out of trouble while merging into a lane with cars driving 140km/hr up your rear end… and that’s no exaggeration… pity the Civic we had wasn’t that kind of car.

The only problem with getting ourselves some wheels is that it now means we have to drive (let alone learning to drive on the other side of the road). Driving in Dubai is an adventure in itself. OK, so you may have heard that the drivers in Dubai are crazy but crazy doesn't quite describe it. Let’s try, rude, impatient, insane, stupid, useless - these are a few words that go towards describing Dubai's drivers. Of course when one is driving these words are usually preceded with a large variety of expletives (but no arm gestures as people have been known to be arrested and thrown in jail for giving a bad driver the "finger" or the fist) and of course no journey on Dubai's streets is complete without at least a couple of blasts on the horn!

The drivers here fall into two categories. First, there are just your average garden variety terrible (and I mean terrible) drivers who don't indicate; don't look when changing lanes; realise that it is so important to get petrol from the petrol station they are just about to pass that they cut across in front of you (that person being me carefully driving in the inside lane) from the outside lane with no warning and missing your car by centimetres (only because you slammed on the brakes so hard that you burn out your tyres and surround yourself in a cloud of smoke). The place is also full of three to four lane roundabouts or "crash-abouts" (as we now affectionately refer to them) that they even pose a problem for the best of drivers. Defensive driving is the key.

The second kind of driver is your "I'm-in-my-massive-expensive-car-living-in-Dubai-e
ed-waiting-in-traffic-so-get-out-of-my-way" type. Most of these drivers tend to be ex-pats who have forgotten all their etiquette lessons. Take for example, the number of times the horn is blasted in the split second from when the lights turn from red to green.

You have to have a quick and decent sized car just to feel semi safe on these roads (apparently in Sharjah, which is the neighbouring emirate, there are approximately 230 accidents a day - not bad for a population of 600,000+ and the funny thing is that most accidents involve at least one stationary vehicle!). I had to do a fair amount of talking to convince Ed he didn't need to become one of the monsters - in the form of a Hummer driver - but luckily when we took it (a “baby” Hummer H3) for a test drive it turned out to be crap anyway, so he has now (after lengthy negotiations - typical lawyer!) acquired the next best thing to a 4X4 in the form of a phantom black Audi A6 Quattro which Ed fell in love with as soon as the hysterical German general manager at the Audi shop (the car was the manager’s car for a few months) told him it had 19” racing mags, sports suspension, push-button start/stop and GPS system (whatever that all means!). It also has red ears, as in red side mirrors (I think it looks cool) and all at a price you would never be able to buy it for in New Zealand. Anyway, the Audi manager is so funny that every time he sees Ed in the showroom, he will punch his fist in the air and say “Respect”!

I, on the other hand, have now joined the "cool" club and am the proud owner of a Subaru Outback - it's new and shiny, black and can race over the desert like a camel (not sure that is the best analogy but I'm not sure what else races across the desert!). It’s kind of like my old Civic on steroids! We had to go to the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi to get it because the only one left in Dubai was a yucky grey one - that is a boring boy colour and as I am neither a boy nor boring I refused to buy it and instead got Ed to drive me to Abu Dhabi for my fab black one. Abu Dhabi is great, it's similar to Dubai, but is much more established and has managed to retain a good mix between traditional culture and architect and capitalist western influences. The drive is about an hour and a half from Dubai and good to get out of the city for a while (and to test out Ed’s car on the infinite straights).

Cars, Hummers and Plastic Seat Covers
By Ed

As many of you know, I love my cars and Dubai has lots of them – little ones, big ones (Hummers are everywhere - useful for racing over desert dunes, climbing over curbs and running over small children), exotic and fast ones (there is no shortage of Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis, Bentley Continental GT’s), outrageous ones (super-stretched Hummer limos, Rolls Royce Phantoms) and everything in between. I have never seen so many variants of exotic cars in one place, not even when I was in Europe last year. Cars are very well priced here and can be up to tens-of-thousands of dollars cheaper than the equivalent model in New Zealand.

My biggest crack-up is when I see late model cars with their seats covered in clear plastic. Yes, that’s right. The 2006 Range Rover, BMW or Mercedes with nice leather seats covered in plastic. Oh, did I mention the customs papers being left stuck on the passenger windows? Apparently the people do this to show everyone else that they have just bought a brand new car. What bad style! In fact, I might go to the supermarket and buy a whole lot of plastic sandwich bags so I can do the same to my car. Fortunately though, I have not seen a Ferrari or Lamborghini with the plastic bag treatment … yet (update: since I wrote that sentence a few months ago, I have now seen one Ferrari with the plastic bag seat treatment).

Petrol is very cheap here. My new car has an 80 litre petrol tank and it costs me about NZ$50 to fill it with 98 octane. Our little Honda Civic only costs NZ$35 to fill. Car washes are also cheap here, and are frequently required because of the sand. Cars can be cleaned at almost any car park, including at the malls. We used to get our car cleaned at the Mall of the Emirates where we pay less than NZ$5 for a person to hand-wash our car while we shop. It is a very good service but I feel sorry for the guys who have to wash the cars in 40 degree heat. We have since accepted our complex caretaker’s offer to wash our cars every day for about NZ$45 per month per car (being black cars, they get dirty very quickly).

Shop 'til You Drop
By Ed (although this should have been written by Annika)

There is no shortage of shops in Dubai. Dubai has some of the world’s largest shopping malls and is building the Dubai Mall which will be the world’s largest shopping mall. Most of the malls and larger shops are open from 10am to 12 midnight, 7 days a week – very convenient if you want to do your shopping after work. Our current version of St Lukes is the Mall of the Emirates, the second largest mall outside the US and with its own indoor ski field which itself boasts the only indoor black run in the world. We have yet to try it out but will post some photos of the weird winter wonderland as soon as we do, complete with photos of the penguin ice sculptures, the fake fur trees and the mini igloos!

The supermarkets (called “hypermarts” here because they combine a supermarket and a store like K-Mart into one) are very good and have a huge selection of fresh vegetables, seafood and fruit from the Middle East, Europe and Asia. I have been eating a lot of New Zealand and Australian meat as it is widely available – we get better cuts than back at home and the prices are even cheaper! The selection of products is huge and the same international brands that are in New Zealand are also available here. However, we really miss our bread – we are still looking for a place that makes decent bread, as the bread here is sweet and lasts a day before it gets hard.

Food prices are generally about the same although some food is a lot cheaper. For example, we can buy a size 14 cooked chicken for less than NZ$3! Electronic and household goods are generally cheaper than back home and there’s a huge variety to choose from.

"Only in Dubai"
By Annika

We were lucky enough to score tickets to the Robbie Williams concert (the largest concert Dubai has ever hosted) that we saw during our second week here. The concert was great but one of the most exciting parts was watching the traffic make its way back to the city. Now everyone knows that the roads surrounding any concert event are jammed after the concert finishes - we just accept it, turn the radio up and patiently crawl back home. As mentioned above, Dubai drivers are not known for their patience, so instead of waiting for the traffic to clear, one simple takes one's oversized 4x4 and proceeds to race across the desert at around 160km/h until you are able to rejoin the main road. It was quite a scene, hundreds of red tail lights weaving and racing across the desert in the dark - and so began the catch phrase "Only in Dubai".

Our favourite saying took on a different meaning when a friend from work invited us to a Friday brunch. It's quite a tradition here, where all the big hotels put on amazing buffet breakfasts on Friday (which is the first day of our Friday to Saturday weekend). So off we went to our buffet at one of the local 5 star hotels - the restaurant was gorgeous, the food great and the drinks fantastic - oh did I mention the unlimited Bollinger! One never had an empty glass as there was always a waiter (or 2 or 3) on hand to top it up for you even before it got close to being empty - particularly dangerous but made for a very interesting afternoon when some of the older ladies at the restaurant (I use the term very loosely - think more like Patsy and Eddy from the TV show “Absolutely Fabulous”) were completely tanked by 3pm and started dancing with the chefs to some classic 80's music!

The dinner buffets are very similar in that you pay around NZ$70 – 150 per person for all you can eat and drink. The food is excellent (as buffets go) and you can drink as much wine, spirits etc. as you like.

By Annika

Now speaking of 80's music how could one turn down an invite to a "School Disco - End of Term Party" at one of the bars in Dubai - really, ask yourself? - a little vintage Madonna, Wham, Petshop Boys and Rick Ashley - needless to say after a few bright blue "Bullfrog" cocktails ordered by Ed, the rest of the night was a blur, but the photos tell a good story!

The Sights and Sounds of Dubai - Part I
By Ed

We haven’t had much time to properly explore Dubai but we are looking forward to it once we have settled down. One of my highlights so far was going on a hot air balloon flight, which Annika got me for my birthday. Apart from the 3am wake up for the morning flight, it was an amazing experience and one of the best ways to see the desert. As I have never been in a hot air balloon before, I was surprised at how smooth the flight was. It was on this ride that I saw my first wild camels in the desert!

There is so much we want to explore in Dubai and the surrounding Emirates and countries. In Dubai, we want to go on a desert safari, visit the water park “Wild Wadi”, visit the souks and some of the astonishing hotel complexes. We will probably do a lot of this when the temperatures drop in the next few months. It is currently the end of summer and the temperatures are now dropping to the high 30’s (it was 45-48 degrees in the middle of the summer!). Although the heat is quite nice, the high humidity during summer did make it a bit of a struggle to explore outside.

The Sights and Sounds of Dubai - Part II
By Annika

We finally had a chance to play tourist and tour guide in early August when Ed's parents arrived from NZ enroute to the UK.

This city is famous for its over-the-top tourist attractions and fabulous hotels and with millions of tourists being drawn here every year we thought it was about time we got out and explored it ourselves. The current temperatures prevented us from experiencing a lot of the typical tourist activities like desert safaris and walking through the gold and diamond souks but from the comfort of my air-conditioned car (Ed’s air-conditioning in his car broke down, believe it or not!) we took Ed's parents on a tour of the city.

The first day we took them to the “China Club” restaurant at the Intercontinental Hotel for a great all-you-can-eat and drink Yum Cha, Dubai style – the China Club would have to be one of the best Chinese places to eat in Dubai (not that there are many Yum-Cha places to choose from but the quality of the food is excellent). We then went for a drive along Jumeriah beach that runs almost the length of Dubai and is filled with top class hotels, a few public parks and houses with some lovely views of the Persian Gulf (including its ever changing coastline). The beach itself is beautiful, especially at the bottom end where the Dubai Marina is being constructed - the sand is pure white and the water crystal clear but unfortunately at this time of year the sand is too hot to stand on with bare feet and the water is so warm it's like being in a hot bath.

As with everything in Dubai there are huge amounts of construction underway. Whether it’s the creation of the Palm developments (the original Palm has been labelled the “Eighth Wonder of the World” (being visible from space) with two other Palm like developments also planned for Dubai's coastal waters), the “World” (we’re still trying to figure out who bought NZ … it wasn't us!), the Hydropolis (a luxury underwater hotel - I kid you not!), the millions of new hotels and apartments being constructed at the Dubai Marina (think the Gold Coast times 20!) or the new Business Bay being constructed alongside Sheikh Zayed Road, this place is full of cranes, big ones, small ones, even ones that go over roads - some people say Dubai has something like 20-25% of the world's cranes and believe me sometimes it looks like it with the skyline littered with them (to be honest I actually quite like them at nights as they are all lit up like Christmas trees!). But if you want to see the craziness that is Dubai’s ever-changing skyline and coastline, what better place than the top of the world's only 7 star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, while enjoying (say the following in a posh accent) “a very elegant afternoon tea”!

The only way to get into the Burj (apart from being a staying guest) is if you have a reservation at one of the restaurants (or if you get a haircut at the hair salon there), so after clearing security some way from the entrance of the Burj, we drove across a bridge onto the little island that hosts the magnificent building. We valet parked the car (because it’s free and expected of you), entered the lobby with its lush red, blue and gold carpet and took view of the OTT hotel features – huge aquariums full of tropical fish and coral built into two walls beside the escalators; magical jumping water fountains; golden pillars, archways and elevator doors and massive chandeliers! It’s completely over-the-top and not to my tastes but in saying that it would be almost disappointing if its wasn't a little extravagant - a little "Vegas" meets "Lawrence of Arabia" meets "Goldfinger" (possibly even "Goldmember") - the photos give a you a pretty good idea.

Afternoon tea at the top of the Burj is great – a constant flow of mini sandwiches, cakes, scones and tea or coffee… and a superb view of the city (even though it was quite hazy when we got up there). From the top of the Burj, you can see the Palms and it was possible just to make out the “World”. You also have a view of the extraordinary Jumeirah Madinat complex – a massive (think the size of Broadway Newmarket from Levenes to the end of the Village Cinemas) castle like hotel complex with its own man-made waterways accessible by boat (or golf cart). Apparently it only took two years to develop the complex … crazy! Anyway, after fluffing around in the Burj taking hundreds of photos we headed back home to rest after a marathon couple of days’ sightseeing.

Food, Food, Food
By Ed

We have explored many of the food establishments here – Indian, Chinese, Italian, German, Lebanese, Iranian, Mediterranean … you name it, Dubai has it. One of my favourite places is “Ravi’s” – a simple Indian eat-in which is popular with the expat Indian workers and highly recommended in the restaurant guides. The food at Ravi’s is up against the best Indian places back home! For decent sized servings of butter chicken, lamb korma, fried rice, salad and naan bread we pay about NZ$25 between the two of us. How’s that for a good dinner? It’s smack bang in the middle of an older part of Dubai, so it’s great to experience a bit of tradition.

Working to Pay the Bills
By Ed

I thought I would write a little bit about work given that it was one of the reasons why we came here. I am working at Clyde & Co, which is a large London based law firm with Middle East offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and soon, Qatar. Clyde & Co is the largest and oldest of the international law firms based in the United Arab Emirates. In the scheme of things, the office is small (compared to Bell Gully) with about 50 lawyers and just as many support staff. Of those 50 lawyers, 5 are Kiwis and quite a few more are Australian, so there is a strong Australasian presence in the office! Annika works for the “Magic Circle” law firm Clifford Chance, which also has a long history in this region.

I am doing the same kind of work as I did back home, i.e. advising on technology, telecommunications and media work. I have also been doing a lot of other random stuff, which is nice for a change and keeps me challenged. The transition has been quite straight-forward given that a lot of the laws in the UAE (relating to my practice) are still in their infancy or non-existent. I find the work is very interesting (i.e. the subject matter) and it keeps me busy – so busy that I was so glad to have an assistant start in July to help me out!

Annika is enjoying her job. The learning curve has been steep for her because she has moved from practising in commercial property to project financing. She tells me she enjoys working on the larger projects rather than the hectic transactional work she used to do back home.

How to Keep Fit at 40 Degrees
By Ed

I have recently started playing touch rugby again after trying to find someone who organises the competition here. Anyway, it didn’t take me long to find out who that person was. I happened to stop off at a French Bakery one day to buy some pastries. I opened a door for a guy who was coming in while I was leaving the store and he said “thanks mate” in what was very much a Kiwi accent. Anyway, we got talking and it turned out that he is the organiser for touch rugby in Dubai!

I now play touch on Monday nights with a whole bunch of Kiwis, Aussies, South African, English and French people for a run around. A lot of people turn up and it’s not unusual to have 15 or so people per side! Although the ball doesn’t get distributed well with those kind of numbers, it’s good to get a decent run. The game starts around 7pm and finishes at 9pm but lately it’s been difficult playing in the humidity and high 30 degree heat. I haven’t played for the last few games as I stupidly ran onto the field without warming up and tore my left quad muscle. So, I’ve been going to physio for the last few weeks and I’m hoping I will be able to jump on the field when the Dubai touch competition starts on September 29!

For those guys in the touch team back home, you’ll be pleased to know that Mi7 Dubai has started up. We are a team of 12 players (7 from NZ, 2 from the UK, 1 from SA, 1 from Australia and 1 from Finland!) and will play in a 13 round competition on Friday mornings. We get to play two to three games per day where the Dubai Sevens are played so hopefully it will be good fun.

Annika is hoping to join a netball team and we both hope to hit the slopes after my quad has healed completed. We also might start playing tennis or squash to keep fit.

We also managed to watch all of the All Black games this year at the Irish pub down the road. The atmosphere at the pub is pretty good as it's packed with Kiwis, Aussies, South Africans or Brits looking forward to watching a good game of rugby. Most of the games we watched were at 9.30 am or 11.30am, so it was very much a case of eating breaking while watching the Tri Nation games … all good! We miss the Super 14 and NPC but hopefully we will get coverage of that next year.

By the Cybershots

To check out our photos, click on the links on the right hand side of this page. We will keep this updated.


Give yourself a pat on the back if you've got this far and read every single word :)

So, that is what we have been up to for the last few months. Sorry it’s taken us so long to write this but we will try and send more frequent (and shorter!) updates on a regular basis.

Take care … we miss you all!

We have plans to fly home from 17 to 29 November to visit family and friends (oh, and to see U2 who cancelled on us before we left) so hopefully we will be able to catch up with a lot of you soon.

Contact Details
By our lonely PO Box that doesn't receive any mail

Our mailing Address (there is no residential postal service so all mail needs to be sent to a PO Box!):

Ed / Annika
PO Box 58520
United Arab Emirates

Please send us anything ... we'd love to receive some real mail other than bills!

Mobile: +971 50 45 789 55 (Ed) / +971 50 651 2431 (Annika)
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