Saturday, 28 August 2010

Special moments

I'm an avid people watcher and sometimes this gets me into trouble as other don't always appreciate being watched. Somehow having a camera legitimise this, well to some anyway. It's Ramadan here, no eating or drinking in public as our Muslim neighbours are fasting. There are no eating places open either so it's eat at home or fast too.

Rau and I were breaking our fast just after Iftar on Thursday night, buying some yummy falafal and chicken shwarmas. While we were waiting I was fascinated by the man through the window making thin, crepe like Egyptian bread, totally delicious with honey. I watched as he took the pre raised balls of dough and spread this pliable dough thinly over a soft pillow like pad. He then placed this onto the hot plate for a short time to cook.

He had a pile already made and we watched him make several more. I wasn't sure if he knew we were watching, I was thinking what a wonderful photo opportunity it would be, until he turned and smiled at us. He then gave one of his colleagues a freshly made bread and he passed it out the window to me. It was really hot so, still smiling, he gave me a bag to hold it with. Rau and I were starving so we wolfed it down, breaking our self imposed fast.

They looked on appreciatively. I got to thinking about just how many people live and work here in Al Ain. People from all over the world. People who are employed in the supermarkets, the food shops, the souq, the salons. People who are employed in schools and hospitals. I may just continue my people watching with my camera and get some shots of everyday life here. The everyday that we tend to overlook as we go to and from work.

Later this afternoon I hope to get to explore the Jimi Oasis with the Emirates Natural History Group, photos will follow if I do. Now I'm off to Toyota to book mine in for a service, fancy having done over 22000 kilometres in just under a year. I'm also going with Jane and David to see if they can get new Toyotas. Introductions help here.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Interios, Paris



While wandering through wet and gray Montmartre Di and came across an oasis of light, the interior sighted from the gray street drew us in. Interios contained the most stunning pottery and ceramics. These were arranged in colour sets, very visually appealing, with many different items in each set. I thought I liked the blue/green until I saw the red set. The teapot is pictured on Di's site, the cups were stunning.

The two of us, both non shoppers, oooooed and ahhhhed over the red set. I was determined I was going to buy the teapot for Di as a gift for having me to stay and to also buy some bits and pieces for me. I had traveled so lightly that I had plenty of space for extras. Unfortunately we had not long begun our wandering and decided that carrying such things along with all our heavy camera gear was a recipe for disaster.

We made a plan to get back there, to make the purchases as last minute ones. Alas, time flew and while we were at Notre Dame taking photos of the birds being fed, we realised that we would most probably miss our train if we did. It was a horrible realisation but no worries, we'd order online. Apparently not possible. We'll just have to go back to Paris, that teapot is certainly worth the trip.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Bang bang in the night

There's a building going up across the road from my apartment. It's in the stage Keri dubbed the toothpick stage, with lots of toothpick like scaffolds holding the concrete slabs above the floor slab while the pillars are built. Seems to be how they build them around here. Tonight I got up close and personal with the building and the men building it.

Last night I got very little sleep, there were bang bangs all night as they built the boxing to pour the concrete for the pillars in. Bang bang bang until well after 2am. Each time I thought they'd stopped and I relaxed, bang bang again. It was very reminiscent of Qatar, although here it was one site not several vying for the noisiest.

Tonight I went to dinner with friends, Ilene and Simon, who had returned from Aus today and were heading north tomorrow. It seemed like I might be the perfect person to keep them awake. When I arrived home the bang bang had started again. It's Ramadan and high summer so much of the work does get done at night so I do understand the need for it. Nevertheless off I went to talk to 'boss' on the site.

I suspect I was a bit of a novelty standing on the site in a skirt complete with hand bag and heels. The lads close by came over, young lads from the Indian subcontinent. Maffi English there and unfortunately I don't even have a rudimentary understanding of Urdu, where's Anne when you need her. I somehow made myself understood with gestures, very polite and obviously very amusing gestures.

I said in sign language "I live there (pointing to my apartment block) your bang bang (pointing to their hammer and making the motion) is stopping me from sleeping (hands to the side of my face, eyes closed, then opened)." The puzzled looks slowly changed to looks of enlightenment. After much amusement on both sides, by this time all work had stopped and most of the workers were joining in, agreement was reached. They would bang bang on the other side of the building tonight.

I'm not sure how that's going to help very much but I agreed and we all said goodbye and went back to our places. Them to work and me to hopefully get a good nights sleep. I may just have to resort to the Qatar trick of sleeping in my iPod by the sound of things as I write. There's no bang bang but there seems to be a jack hammer operating, oh well can't have everything my way.

Monday, 23 August 2010

London





A few of the London photos, more to follow with more stories. I wondered if I'd go up on the London Eye. Others told me it was cool, I convinced myself I must go and it was the last thing I did before heading to the airport. The light wasn't very good, a dull day with threatening clouds, but I did get a couple of reasonable shots.

The view from the pod looking up (or down) the Thames, yours truly outside the globe, The lovely Kim on the millennium bridge and one of the most impressive buskers I've ever seen, yes I gave generously.

Further to my previous post

Well, what a treat flying from Heathrow was. A cold hand gripped my heart when my name was called over the speakers in the Emirates Lounge, I suspected I was about to miss the plane but no it was a call to the reception desk. The nice man, the very, very nice man took my boarding pass and handed me another with those lovely words.

"Here's your complimentary upgrade, enjoy." He smiled as he handed me a boarding pass for 9E instead of 22G. Traveling business class is a luxury I could get used to. I was thinking earlier in the day that I was wearing the wrong shoes for flying, my walking flats, so I was worried about not being able to touch the floor. The thought was fleeting, in business class there's no worries about this small issue. The seats recline complete with foot rest, luxury on a night flight.

Then there was the food and drinks, on tap with an excellent selection. I wanted the flight to go on longer but alas we landed. I got off the plane first, got my bags then headed to my car. Never any problems getting anywhere in the UAE on a Friday. The traffic was easy and in no time I was home in Al Ain.

Work began today, an interesting day spent sharing holiday stories in the breaks. Last night we watched the All Blacks win while enjoying some good company at the Rugby Club. We took some of the new people, my neighbours and others, with us. It's always good meeting new people, interesting traveling people. Things are getting back to normal. I know that soon my holiday will seem like a distant dream, I hope that's not too soon.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Time to say goodbye....

Goodbye to Europe and the UK, hello to Dubai and then Al Ain. One of the good things about all the flying I do, my 'round the world trips' as a friend of mine calls them, is that I get to wait for planes in the Emirates lounges. This is a bonus as I get to use the down time for eating, sampling their wine and using the Internet. It's peaceful and there's always people watching if I have to wait too long.

Not today, I was at the airport early, checked in then tried to claim the tax for the good I'd purchased. Two things actually my camera and the flash bag I bought to transport that and my Mac. The queue was interminable. I waited with a lovely family from Ghana who really had had a world trip. The five year old boy found the wait trying so we chatted as you do with five year old boys. What a cute boy, gave me a run for my money with his questions. I suspect his mum was grateful.

After well over an hour, did I mention I don't do queues, I got to the front counter. Not sure I actually needed to be there as I had to take the paper for my camera through to customs while others were getting money in their hands. Go figure. Getting the twenty plus percent tax back made my camera a viable purchase so I suppose it was worth the wait, I just have to get the stamped receipt back to the shop. No worries, I'll just have to visit Di again.

She may not have me back as I suspect I broke her with all my chasing around. The wet outing to Paris possibly tipped the scales. Ops just been called for the plane....must go!!!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Ieper




Gert took us on a Sunday drive to explore Ieper or Ypres if you're speaking French. This was one of the main arenas for WW1. Here's some photos from a very special cemetery where Katherine Mansfield's brother is buried. There are also many New Zealanders there.

Okay, had to go and have dinner but I'm back to finish this post. Ieper is a place I've visited before, in 2004 with Muzz. It touched a chord then and this revisit reinforced that. I got to see some new places this trip as well as revisiting familiar ones. The cemetery above was a new place, Tyne Cot was a familiar one. It's changed, there's a new visitors centre that adds to the whole experience with graphic displays and explanations bringing the war closer.

The vista from the large window with the legend showing the battlefield, it looks very peaceful today. I always feel a welling of emotion as I read the names on the stones, the names of young men whose lives ended in mud, in pain far from their families. The war was advertised to them as an adventure, it became a nightmare. The young men are mostly the same age as my young men, but for an accident of birth they would be there.

I often think about accidents of birth when I'm in the UAE. The young men who come and work there in the construction industry, young men who come over from countries that are not as privileged as ours, are at such a disadvantage. They don't seem to be free to choose their fates, tied to those who recruit and employ them. When I compare that to my young men, that seems an untenable fate, there but for an accident of birth.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Antwerp Zoop






Merit and I went to the Antwerpen Zoo this morning. I took my new camera, did I mention I bought a new camera the other day? I've been planning for a while to update after feeling frustrated by my recent photos. Other things got in the way, seemed more important at the time. I came to stay with Di, she confirmed my need for a camera and off we went to buy one.

An hour or so later I was the proud owner of a Canon EOS50D. The photos here are from my first outing, my first real go with my camera. The Zoo is fantastic, a family place with many wandering around enjoying the sunshine today.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

London






There's something about London, a vibrancy, an excitement, a feeling of being overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells. Being overwhelmed by the crush of people all going in different directions and speaking different languages. Kim, Luke and I wandered around visiting the NZ and Australian war memorials. These were very different and reflected the arena's in which both countries had supported their Empire.

The New Zealand one is amazing, looks different from different angles. The white crosses on the top are supported by uniquely New Zealand stories and symbols. It was difficult to capture the whole of the memorial so I've included a piece here that I felt reflected it's meaning.

We wandered around Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament to the horses standing guard. The rain fell and we retreated to the underground. I suspect the rain has followed me as it rained most days I was in the UK, a novelty to get some dampness.

With Kim's help, I negotiated my way to St Pancras Station and more stairs. The Eurostar is the way to travel, a very quick trip to Brussels then onto Antwerp where Di was patiently waiting for me. I was a little apprehensive about going under the channel in a tunnel but only realised I had, thanks to a good book, when I got the welcome to France text.

The photos are of Big Ben hiding in the trees; the Houses of Parliament; Kim and I with a London phone box (not exactly the Tardis); the change of the guards at Buckingham Palace and the NZ war memorial.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Onwards from Wales




I arrived in London yesterday afternoon after a restful train trip, no need to worry about the speed limits on a train or directions. Paddington Station is huge so this slightly lost kiwi had to ask, not adverse to that, where the metro was. It seems that all metros are down stairs, many stairs, as is the loo at the station. I've visited the odd railway station on my travels and am always amazed to see people lugging bags up and down these steep steps or struggling to keep the bag upright on a packed escalator.

Yesterday I was lucky. I had two lovely people offer to help. My bag's a small one, I've learnt that you don't need to take a lot, and it's easy to drag. I suspect I look worthy of help, well the vain me says that the realistic one thinks I have a sign on my forehead, you could be my mum so I'll help you out. I've been pleasantly surprised at how friendly and helpful the people are here from those offering help with bags and directions to the coffee man who sold me a yummy bagette for lunch.

I got to East Putney negotiating the tube and met with Kim and Luke who kindly offered me a bed. We wandered out to dinner and had a lovely Thai meal sitting outside alongside the Thames. A fantastic green curry with a nice Pino Gregio, what more could I ask for. Today sightseeing is on the menu and then I'm on the Eurostar to Di and Gert's place. Can't wait to see everyone again and to sample some unique Belgian/kiwi hospitality.

The photos are of the Middle Eastern room and the library in Cardiff Castle and the Welsh dragon. No trip to Wales is complete without a picture of a dragon.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Cardiff






Cardiff's been a treat. We managed to find our way around with the new sat nav, good thing to have when wanting to head back to Kate's house from being misplaced somewhere. Today Sarah, Olivia and I walked down to the Castle and had a wander around.

The photos are from my first wander around the park on the outside of the castle walls. My battery's about to die so will write more later.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Windsor and Wales




We decided we were a little tired to go to Bath so I set out for Windsor instead, it was just down the road according to maps, according to the sat nav system in the flash Volvo it was a little further. Well, of course it would be. It was the first time I'd used one of these flash gadgets and it took some getting used to. Couple that with the fact that it was my first drive in the Uk and, well things got a little stressful. Ending up back at the village I where I had started my journey was disconcerting. Common sense prevailed, I did a U turn and off I went.

I got there just in time to see the changing of the guards, fantastic although I needed to be taller to get the shots I wanted. My tour guide, a friend who knows the area well, gave me some insights into the place as we wandered for a while. We made it to Eaton, saw where martyrs were burnt at the stake in 1543 and the Watermans Arms where they used to stored the bodies fished from the Thames, very civilised.

The sat nav didn't help me much on the return, it helps to know how to set it! I did find my way back then Sarah, Olivia and I set off for Cardiff. The drive was okay, finding the two places we needed to find was not such an easy task. Thank goodness for the kindness of the Welsh. A man could see we were lost, in the right area just not on the right street. He looked at the map and led us to the place, fantastic. We now had the key. Next job, find the place we were staying.

Easier said than done. After lots of phone calls, directions from Kate and trial and error with the maps we had, we found the place. Some of the street names are not spelt as they're said and the street names are not easy to find but we managed. I forgot to mention, we swapped the Volvo for a smaller, cheaper version with no sat nav. I'm now the proud owner of one, needs must.

This afternoon I'm off to explore Cardiff so pics will follow. The pics are of the guards, the castle and surrounds.


Thursday, 5 August 2010

Rural England





Rural England is much more peaceful and beautiful than I had imagined. It's my first foray into the countryside here, last time I was mostly in London. It's very green here and as we walked though the light summer rain along the tow path between Shiplake and Henley on Thames I could see why people flock to this area. I've just finished reading Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernières, a gentle recollection of past rural English life. I saw what he was talking about today in the scenes that unfolded as we walked, the small villages and lovely houses along the Thames.

The photos are from our walk, a lovely day out with some excellent company. Thanks Sarah, Anna and Olivia.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Chillin'


Being in Al Ain with so few others, so few of my friends, is odd. My phone is silent. It's strange to go out and about in town and not see anyone I know to stop and chat to. I do like a bit of a chat. I did go and chat to the nice man at Emirates who organises my travel. He arranged that I was sitting as close to Sarah and Olivia as I can be for our flight to the UK tomorrow. He also told me that I'm now a gold member of Emirates. Excellent, I'll get to enjoy the lounges rather than have to sit about on those hard seats if there's a delay.

I've managed to do some serious relaxing, reading, sorting photos, gyming and swimming. All the advantages of a resort without living out of a suitcase. I lay by the pool yesterday as it was slightly cooler at 42 and there was little wind. The shamal kicks up in the late afternoon blowing dust and sand everywhere so the morning is the best time to enjoy the outdoors.

So today I'm sorting the clothes for the next adventure, summer clothes this time although I suspect I'll need my merinos in the UK looking at the forcasts. I'm packing very light this time, using a small suitcase that easy to manage when out and about. I've got some pics of the small boy printed and will need to get some flash frames for them.

Hopefully my new glasses will be ready today as well. I got my eyes tested in NZ and came here to get some frames as there's more selection. The lady was amazingly helpful and honest. I usually struggle getting glasses that suit and this time I had several pairs to choose from. She also rechecked my prescription with a flash new machine, will definately go there for my next check. My prescription has changed, my eyesight has improved, all good really.

The photo is of the Oxford foothills after a couple of chilly wet days. The dusting of snow kept the temperature low, 4C for the day. Nothing a nice warm fire couldn't fix.