Tuesday, 29 September 2009

New wheels


I got to ride in a taxi back from yoga after walking there in the subtle but sweaty dusk heat. The taxi driver and I went via Toyota. I've been trying to organise my new car for weeks now, something always gets in the way. I'm not sure if that's a sign or just sent to try me. I've now got the bank papers, all I need to do is catch Toyota open so I can get them to register it and wave as I drive away.

It's my first new car, an impressive Toyota Fortuna 4wd. The first car purchase where I've had to go through the process on my own instead of leaving it to the man of the house. I know when I get it will be awesome. I'll be able to go off road, I'm even getting some lessons on desert driving. There will be photos, promise.

I was talking to Sarah, a fellow foodie, about my time in Belgium and my favorite flavor. In Italy it was the cherry galato, in Qatar it was raspberry sorbet, in NZ it was pineapple lumps and in Belgium it was Kriek beer. Cherry beer, yum! Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, I sampled it on my last day and we were on the bikes so I had to make do with one bottle. I took the photo so I could convince our local supplier to buy some in for me, otherwise I'll just have to visit Di again.

Sarah also drank Kriek when she lived in Belgium. Her excuse was it was the only beer she could pronounce easily, I suspect she actually liked it too. I'm missing the lovely company I had in Belgium, being part of a family again with all those family things like plenty of cooking and dishes. I particularly miss Sahara. I was reminded about her today on the long walk to yoga. I'm sure the men out front were wondering what the mad western woman was doing smiling in their direction. The cause was a sign, Lulu Sahara over a small dairy.

The plan for the weekend is to do some driving, might go to see Sue in Liwa. Liwa is just east of the middle of nowhere and Sue has not long moved there fro work. I have chocolate for her from Belgium, yes I love that too and the pastries for breakfast.......yum yum yum. Tomorrow is another work day, a day of planning and meetings. By the end of the day I'll have my new wheels, Inshallah.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Friday



Fridays are days when I spend the morning talking to family then go out and about in the afternoon, this afternoon to the Rotana gym and pool with Sarah. We had a quiet workout, it wasn't that many hours since I'd left the Rotana after Thursday drinks. Nina, Mary-Anne and I made a night of it, fun with excellent company.

I've missed lazing by the pool. It was nice to chill in the water and bake in the sun, very relaxing. Anne and I were doing the Natural History Group tramp, we both piked out. It was going to be a mission, a long hard walk in the heat and I certainly wasn't up to that. Anne agreed.

I still don't have my internet sorted and I'm trying to upload a couple of photos, may take some time. The photos are of a previous trip to the desert, the sun setting through the branches of one of the sparse desert trees. Jess helped me improve the clarity of the original. The other is of my traveling companions, Jess and Sahara, in Brugges.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Back in the hot lands

Well, not as hot as when I left. I had to turn on the electric hot water last night as the sun is no longer heating the tanks on the roof enough for a warm morning shower. A bit of a shock to get a cold one yesterday. It's nice though, being back and catching up with everyone. Being in the bone warming heat again.

The Belgian chocolates made it home intact, thanks to Rau's eski and have been appreciated by all who've had a sample. I've been immersed in work, trying to catch up on all that's happened and needs to happen while I've been away. Good news is the weekend's coming. Todays jobs are to to get the internet sorted, it's intermittent and very slow, frustrating after Di's high speed. I've also got an appointment at the Rotana after work.

The weekend promises to be a quiet one; walking with the natural history group, catching up with friends, food shopping and cleaning my dusty house. There's a few sand dunes that need to be removed mostly due to the storm the day I left. A very impressive storm with thunder and lightening as well as wind capable of tearing trees to pieces and forcing the sand through my window seals. The rain was the best, that hot rain that falls on the hot ground and releases the earth smell. Rain is so rare here, a bit of treat, and my neighbors made the most of it. Children laughing and running through the puddles and the adults standing watching, laughing. A good sight as I left to catch my plane.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Middelheim Sculpture Park





Di and I rode to the Middelheim Sculpture Park along the cycle lanes in the warm afternoon. There were bikes out everywhere, I had to remember to keep out of the way as others came through faster than these ambling women. The park is amazing, treasures scattered through the trees, tree lined lanes, sculptures of the serene, surreal and bizarre. I took heaps of photos and really want to add more, but for now, here are a selection.

Tomorrow I head to Dubai via Amsterdam. Rau and Sarah are meeting me and we're staying the night before heading back to Al Ain, via a shopping mall or several knowing my companions. Eid is over and I'm back at work on Wednesday. Part of me can't wait, there's heaps to be caught up on. Part of me will miss the family who have so generously included me in their lives through this tough time. Thanks Di, Gert, Jess and Sahara. Thanks Marco for the loan of your bed. I've really enjoyed spending time with you and appreciated your support. As you know, there's always a bed at my place.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

In action



Not often I like photos of me but I liked these ones Jess took of me in Bruges. The horse and I were obviously looking at something important.

In Bruges

Bruges Part I




Annie told me she loved Bruges, that it was a fantastic place to visit. She was so right. I enjoyed the black comedy In Bruges so was looking forward to climbing the tower shown in the movie and in the photo above. Jess and Sahara, today's traveling companions, and I queued for a while then decided to come back, to brave the 366 stairs to the top after lunch. Sahara's only five so it seemed like a much better plan.

We got wandering, saw some sights, took heaps of photos, dodged horses and their carriages, bikes and cars and then craved a little ice cream. By that time the tower was closed, a visit for next time maybe. Will write and add more photos later. I'm feeling a bit jaded, five year olds have heaps of energy. I suspect this one's worn me out.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Amsterdam




Yesterday we ventured to Amsterdam. We were late for the train, there was a queue so we paid on the train, a trap to be avoided. Still we got there, hungry and in dire need of a coffee. Anyone who's traveled with me knows that I'm a little grumpy when hungry, Di is similar. We found an excellent cafe, the best coffee I've had in ages plus a piece of homemade cake, yum.

We wandered around Amsterdam people watching and sightseeing; wandered past cafes where the fug of smoke told me what sort of cafes they were; wandered past the wonderful canal bridges packed with bikes; wandered past tourist shops and eating places. We even had a go at the trams when we were sick of wandering. Who would have thought that no one wanted to take our fare.

I've always wanted to visit the van Gogh Museum. We followed the map and found the place. It was wonderful to see his art all in one place. Most of my favorites were there. We finished the day with frites and a smooth red at a canal front cafe. Frites are chips and they're eaten with mayo not tomato sauce as is usual in NZ. I've asked at many places for a plate of frites.

"No madam they only come with other food," the waiter said haughtily when I asked in Brussels. Di cringed.

Well, I'm pleased to tell you, they're not so precious in Amsterdam. the bowl of frites was yummy, missed the tomato sauce though, mayo is not quite the same. You can take the girl out of NZ.....

Two of the photos are of the famous canals, the light came right for one but the day was dull and chilly. Dubai has painted camels, Capri has painted cows. I suppose it's only fitting that Amsterdam has painted elephants? The closer photo had me looking quizzical and Di laughing. There was a dog peeing on the tree behind me, not a publishable photo really.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Brussels



We went to Brussels today on the train. Di had a photo shoot with a new baby and his family, I got to wander the city alone. Now, I'm good with maps. Everyone knows that. But not in Roma and not today. You see the key to reading maps is knowing the starting point. Today I failed miserably on that front. Who would have thought that all the historically meaningful buildings would be pictured on the map except the Grand Place (doesn't sound so grand written).

So I began wandering from the place I thought was pictured as the Grand Place, wrong. No wonder I struggled to find the things I wanted to find and yet found other things that defied logic. Oh well, nothing was hurt in the process, except once again my leo pride.

I was footsore and hungry so found a place that sold falafal, a Greek restaurant with a smiling man inviting me in. How could I resist. I suspect he was a little surprised when I asked for tea with my meal. The men next to me certainly were and tried to convince me of the merits of their respective wines, white and rose, much to the amusement of all.

The two were as old as Methuselah and looked like the two old men on the balcony in the Muppets. They spoke to me in English, once they realised I was not a mademoiselle, and in other languages to the others in the shop. They appeared to have their own language for each other.

Needless to say under such peer pressure I sampled the Rose, much to the delight of the Rose drinker. The other tried to convince me otherwise, an argument ensued that had others laughing and left me bemused. When I left the shop I was invited to return tomorrow, the falafal were good enough to consider that while the Rose came from a very large bottle and tasted like it came from a cask.

Di and I met at the station and jumped on a train home to Antwerp. Then the fun began.
"Is this the train to the airport?" asked the man.
"No, it's the train to Antwerp," answered Di. The man looked shocked, horrified.
"So not the train to the airport then," asked another man, Irish I suspected from the faint accent.

Di, Fatima and Maria were convinced that they were on the Antwerp train, I smiled and nodded unconvinced of anything. You see we became good friends with Maria from Moldova and Fatima from Morocco who both lived on the Brussels/Antwerp line after we discovered that we were all on the wrong train. Not our fault apparently as the airport train somehow jumped in before the Antwerp one, an out of sequence that put us out of sorts.

We had a laugh about the situation, harder for Fatima as she was fasting and iftar was fast approaching, as we traveled back to the starting point and waited for the next train. Di shared her chocolate bar with Fatima as we chatted. Fatima has Di's card and my number and we have an invite to an eid celebration with her family, a mistake making a wrong connection into a good one.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Proper houses


There are lots of proper houses in Antwerpen, even the shops are proper. For the uninitiated, proper houses are those with stairs. Houses with an upstairs and a downstairs. Houses with a promise of mystery and history. What's up the stairs? Are there hidey holes for goblins and the like? Is there a dusty attic full of treasures?

As an adult I've aimed to live in proper houses, and succeeded for most of the time. The house that's on the market in NZ is a proper house. It has stairs inside and outside, one of the reasons I fell in love with it. I can remember walking up the outside steps for the first time, peeking around the corner of the hedge to see the house shining in the sun.

Of course being in a proper house has it's drawbacks. Di's new house is a proper house with very narrow stairs, two sets up two levels, 34 steps in all. Di and Gert and family have just moved in so the trauma of moving things up stairs hasn't faded yet. Time is a healer, and once things are in place, it feels like they always were.

The lady whose shop door way and stairs I've included here was telling us that getting the new stock upstairs is a trial. Her stairs looked so inviting, at times I feel like a kid who just wants to go up and explore what's at the top. Today I resisted urge, the lure of a good Belgian coffee stronger.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Funeral songs

We all have them, sometimes we get to choose them, sometimes others do. This talk of funeral songs led to trawling through YouTube and itunes to revisit and remember. We've discussed them all from Amazing Grace to Pink Floyd, the most common one in my family.

Dad's chosen Wish You Were Here along with Ride of the Valkyries, a stirring Wagner piece made famous in Apocalypse Now. There's been lots of searching for the right Queen tune from Di's mums funeral, Bohemian Rhapsody and another.

We're staying up for the funeral, 3am Antwerpen time drinking a nice red and eating Belgium chocolate, well that's the plan along with the three of us on our laptops searching for and sharing our favorite music. I'm pleased to say that we've moved on to drinking songs. This is a favorite of mine and Di's:



Sunday, 13 September 2009

Wandering in Antwerpen




Di and I caught the tram into town after my feet hit the ground. We wandered as we do looking for places not quite found, finding places and people unexpectedly wonderful. More of the journey later. For now here are some images from my first wander in these parts.

The busker was a highlight, juggling fire up so high on his uni cycle. The buildings never fail to impress me.

End of an era

Who could have imagined that tonight I would be sitting in Antwerp at Di's table writing, sitting after eating some good old kiwi comfort food after a long flight. A lamb roast is such a kiwi icon. Of course I just enjoyed the veges but yum. It's all been a bit of a blur but I knew I needed whanau (family) and I knew the closest in all ways was Di.

My father passed away on Thursday September 11 at 10.30am NZ time. I had been waiting for the call, it came at 4am UAE time. I was relieved that his turn had come, as I knew he would be from all our recent conversations. It was so difficult to see the strong man, the rock of the family, in such a sorry state. Cancer had ravaged his body and left him a shell of his former self, an upsetting sight to say goodbye to when I left in mid August. The doctor said 4-6 weeks then, he was right.

Di captured how he was to her, for me that's still requiring reflection. All I knew was that the whanau had gathered and I was alone and in need of whanau who knew and understood. Di was the one. Sue, Rau and Mary-Anne swung into action and here I am. How important good friends are at times like this, good friends and family.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Driving


One of our male colleagues told Hana and I something he shouldn't have earlier in the week. Another confirmed that this was true and gave an example. Hana and I believed them, mostly because we wanted it to be true. The truth is, apparently and until it's proven not to be, that the speed cameras on the Al Ain - Abu Dhabi road in the 120kph zones are set at 160kph. In the 100 zone they are set at 120, there's actually a sign that says this.

Our two colleagues have obeyed these limits for some time with only one ticket for 161kph. Certainly on the trip home where we learnt this important information, we traveled at around 150 most of the way, safely in a flash 4wd with no flashing cameras. Hana and I checked. Hana and I both are bad at mornings, we both have small cars and have been both commuting to AD for the past fortnight. The lads laughed when we told them we got our small cars up to 160 on one of the trips, running late of course and between the cameras.

Today as I traveled confidently along at 140 I was passed by a police car who was tailgating a Merc who was racing a Prado. All good really as they sped past and ignored the small Yaris flying inside them. The police seem to ignore the speeding cars but I did see some busy with a BMW that had kissed the armco and didn't survive the contact. I just hope the driver did.

The travel is over for the week. A few of us stayed at the Al Raha Hotel last night, a girls gathering. It's a flash place, 5 star luxury set in a building site. At least it was quiet inside. I'm feeling a little jaded now after a late and social night. Think I might need an early one tonight. The photo is of the pool as the sun set. There are others, might need permission to use them.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The weekend

Weekends here can be quiet. This weekend was, in a nice way. After traveling most of last week, it was good to get a few nights sleep in my own bed to catch up on the missed nights. The pool was the best place to spend Friday afternoon, followed by fish'n'chips and a few quiets at one of the hotels.

It's quiet around here because of Ramadan. The shops and services keep different hours, eating and drinking is not allowed in public so the cafes are shut until after 7.30pm. We have to be careful eating and drinking in the car, not something done while in a queue waiting for the lights to change. That's a hard habit to break and means I'm feeling a little dry at times.

Fasting is something I don't think I could manage. Talking to friends who are observing the fasting, they are not only handling it but also still managing to work effectively. I'm impressed. To go without food is one thing but no water as well must mean severe discomfort in this climate.

Nina and I managed a trip to the tailor this weekend and then we hit the material shops. What fun it was choosing the material for our new clothes, a more professional set for me to wear in my new job. Nina's got excellent taste, lucky it wasn't left to me on my own. The tailor smiled at us two showing him exactly what we wanted. Nina's is a designer number from the House of Nina, mine copies off other clothes that fit and a jacket also from the House of Nina. I can't wait to see the results.

This weekend camping is in the plan, a trip out to the desert to stay the night and socialise with good friends and new friends. I must get on to buying a tent and the trimmings. Camping is a popular pastime here, especially as it gets towards the cooler months, so it should get good use.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Construction TV

I suspect there are reasons for pouring concrete from a great height down a metal tube in the early hours of the morning, reasons other than to keep me awake. Maybe it's too hot during the day, maybe it's because of the trucks on the road. Who knows, all I know is that last night there was no sleep to be had in Sue's Abu Dhabi flat where I was staying.

We have a laugh about construction TV at Sue's place. Her large living room window looks out onto five building sites, yes five, so we get to see the cranes criss crossing each other with their heavy loads, amazing that they don't get tangles up like kite strings might. Construction TV has a continuous show, a show of young men mostly from the Asian subcontinent busy on scaffolding, busy climbing up the crane structure and along the beam, busy dropping things that clang and crash in the middle of the night. A show of crane ballet and hard hats.

Sue thinks that the construction company have hired someone to come in at 6am on a Friday just to bang metal on metal, not so good with a hangover. And tonight sounds to be no different given the level of the noise outside. I wonder what time they'll start pouring concrete.

Staying in Abu Dhabi is preferable to the other option, driving daily from Al Ain. The road surprises are even more surprising in Ramadan as people speed home for their rest and then their Iftar meal. Driving in a small Yaris is not that safe so I can't wait until I can organise my 4wd.

Iftar, or the end of the fasting day, is a special time. People gather together to share a meal, a social time. We were in a taxi when Iftar was called and the driver shared his pack of dates with us, he smiled and was really happy that he could drop us off and join others to feast the night away. We gave him a lot extra, he deserved it. He was taking us to the Iftar meal at the Sheraton with some of our colleagues, a great night out in a festive atmosphere.

Another upside to staying in AD is the ability to get down to the sea, something I miss in Al Ain. I wandered along the corniche in the steaming heat, soaking in the golden sunset and the smell of the sea. One of the photos captures the golden air, the other is of crane ballet.

I'm sure the Qatar crew can relate to this post. Sleeping with the iPod on to drown out the noise of concrete pouring in the night was a regular occurrence there too. I missed you all when I was walking along the corniche, not nearly as much fun by myself.

Sorry, having trouble uploading the images. Will try again a bit later.