Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Arrival in the Middle East...

We're tracing the steps that we will do with our group when they arrive next week in the 4 cities that we're taking them to and so started in Dubai with a drive to Abu Dhabi and on the plane to Doha today.

We went to a Starbucks yesterday and it was exactly the same down to the uniforms and the white ceramic trays that the pastries sat in. Oh to be the supplier of white ceramic trays to Starbucks! You'd be set!

We were also on the road yesterday all day so lunch was from Burger King. (Such a glamourous way to travel). I had a Lite chicken burger on whole wheat (still working off my 3lbs!) But I could have had a Whopper or onion rings just like home. Other choices would have been Subway, Basken + Robbins, and of course McDonalds. I've also seen a Harley Davidson store and a "Safest Way" (like Safeway). All the major hotel chains are here of course, and the Hilton in Abu Dhabi was stunning - tallest tower in the city and right across the street from the beach.

The black floor length sabayas that the women wear are actually surprisingly sexy. I walked out of the elevator and a woman standing there was breaktaking. Of course all you could see were her eyes but she was incredibly beautiful. The women's robes have slight personalizations like crystals or sequins and some have brands like the YSL logo subtley embroidered. Another gal at the airport was walking and you could see that she had jeans and heels underneath.

For the men, wearing the white robes is a choice, but if I was a guy I'd be into that for sure rather than a heavy and binding wool suit in this weather! The more you see them the more you start to notice the subtle differences in the robes which look the same at the beginning. The higher quality ones are white white, starched and pressed just so, with very subtle quality trim. They personalize their outfits by their cufflinks, jewelry, and shoes. So far, no "dark-eyed" males have been learing, no matter what Gramma led me to expect.

I was sad to leave our hotel this morning, out of my large room with balcony overlooking the pool and then the city, with a walk in closet and bath tub that you could swim in. Raffles here is really new and modern and is like an upscale Four Seasons. I will especially miss my daily basket of assorted exotic fruit and floor butler, who knocks on the door every morning 5 minutes after my wake-up call with a silver tray of coffee and mini chocolate cookies. (Didn't try the cookies - 3 lb thing!!)

Yesterday I had a very short break at the pool where I was virtually the only guest there to use the swim up bar and current pool (where you swim in place against the current). I'm not entirely sure but I think that the walls are actually painted in gold in places - the hotel is built in the shape of a pyramid with a 4-5 story lobby full of Egyptian-style pillars, water pools, and comfy seating strewn (precisely casually) with pillows.

Last evening the General Manager hosted us for cocktails in the lounge where we sat in a Persian style gazebo with more pillows, overlooking the statues and waterfalls in the hotel's botanical garden. 2 other tables there had gals (who looked liked arabian fashion models, dressed in very high-end Western clothes) smoking hubbly bubbly pipes. They are tall (2-3 ft) ornate silver and glass and heated with steam with fruity scents. They're supposed to make you mellow and a brilliant conversationalist : )

Dubai is like one large construction site, and everything is brand, spanking new. Only a small town of 25,000 lived here in one-story sand houses 30 years ago. Now they boast the world's best of everything. The tallest skyscrapers, the largest theme parks, the top of the line golf courses - everything. Their unique (and very expensive) taste for creating man-made islands off the beach by taking sand and piling it out in the gulf has resulted in a massive development that from the air is shaped like a giant palm tree with 1000's of high end waterfront homes. Another development looks like a map of the world from the air, again comprised of tiny man made islands all designed to be miniature continents.

We drove by a huge modern building home to the world's largest indoor ski hill (totally man made and air conditioned to freezing). One mall, opening tomorrow, covers 50 football fields and has parking for 14,000 cars. Every road is under construction and buildings, over 100 stories high, are erected in less than 18 months with the most spectacular architecture. Crews are scheduled 24 hours a day and are recruited from Pakistan, India, and other Asian countries. I thought all of the world's cranes were in Shanghai but they're everywhere here as well. The city is now 1.5 million and growing fast. Although of course you get to the edge and there's nothing by scrubby flat desert as far as the eye can see!

I'll check in again soon, assuming that I can remain un-kidnapped for another couple of days.



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